Frontline Blog

CDC Program Offers Opportunity to Host Young Public Health Professionals

April 2020


By Gabrielle Nichols, Big Cities Health Coalition Program Associate


Growing up in the suburbs, I always loved cities — starting with holiday trips into nearby Philadelphia as a child, escalating to taking the train in every chance I could as a teen, and then choosing to attend college there. I continued to follow my love of cities when I moved to Seattle for a job after graduation, followed by a move to Baltimore for graduate school in public health. I appreciated learning about the history and culture of each city. I loved exploring each city by foot and public transit, through which I found hidden treasures — secret stairways in Seattle, historic alleys in Philadelphia, and the waterfront walkways of Baltimore. 

After graduate school, I applied for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), a two-year program that provides hands-on training for recent graduates at host sites across the country, including state, tribal, local, and territorial public health agencies; nongovernmental organizations such as community-based organizations, public health institutes and associations, and academic institutions; and CDC quarantine stations. When I learned I had been placed at the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), I was thrilled. To be clear, PHAP is a great resource for many different health departments and organizations, but I was personally most excited to be placed in a big city health department. Some people may feel uncomfortable with metropolitan density and unfamiliarity, but I thrive in that energy and diversity.

Chicago presented a new city to explore, full of incredibly diverse residents with various unique perspectives. In my two years at CDPH, I spent time in the majority of the city’s 77 unique community areas and rode all eight of the “L” lines. I was fortunate to work with highly trained epidemiologists to investigate opioid-related overdoses and use that data to inform prevention and response efforts in collaboration with partners across the city and state. Instead of viewing health problems simply as negatives, my colleagues viewed them as opportunities to engage and learn from communities at elevated risk to identify barriers and solutions, from individual to systematic. Such understanding of fellow residents, data-driven commitment, and innovative health promotion are what make cities and their health departments so amazing.

Now, working at the Big Cities Health Coalition, I continue to support city health departments. I live in Washington, DC (another new city to explore!), and work with the leaders of America’s largest local health departments to build their capacity to promote and protect the health of the 62 million people in their jurisdictions. I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn from our members — local health officials with an incredible wealth of knowledge, on-the-ground experience, and profound dedication to their cities. I am excited to apply what I learned working with the CDC and CDPH to advocate for local health departments and help our member health departments build capacity and grow their communal voice. 

Now your organization has a chance to give someone the same opportunity I had!

The 2020 PHAP host site application period is open now (April 1–14). PHAP is seeking sites to host an associate employed by the CDC from October 2020 to October 2022. There are numerous benefits to serving as a PHAP host site, including:

  • Gaining CDC-funded field assignees who are energetic, intelligent, flexible, career-minded individuals with unlimited potential.
  • Forming a unique partnership with CDC to develop the nation’s next generation of public health professionals.
  • Filling workforce gaps caused by budget cuts and staffing shortages.

 If you’d like your organization to be a host site, you can learn more about PHAP and how to apply on the PHAP website.