Campus News

MPH students take on pandemic IRL


Published February 25, 2021

Brett Conrad, MPH student.
“That I can make a tangible difference gives me a great feeling, especially being a public health student and seeing how the pandemic has unfolded. People are exuberant when they get the vaccines. ”
Brett Conrad, MPH student
School of Public Health and Health Professions

UB public health students aren’t just learning about the COVID-19 pandemic in class. A number of them are already spending time in the thick of it.

The students, all in the School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Master of Public Health Program, are working at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) to help with COVID-19-related efforts. Some answered a call to volunteer with ECMC’s Planning and Logistic Team, helping with the vaccine roll-out to frontline health care workers and first responders. Others are working as interns on other pandemic-related endeavors.

One master of public health/epidemiology student, Megan Mihans, is interning with a grant manager at ECMC, helping to apply for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for COVID-19 supply costs.

“I spend a lot of time going through spreadsheets and financial documents to gather information and put it all in one easy-to-read document,” Mihans explains. “I am learning a lot about what goes into the applications and just how detailed everything needs to be.”

ECMC was one of the first Western New York organizations tasked with implementing a distribution plan to provide COVID-19 vaccines to frontline staff and select members of the community based on the guidelines provided by New York State. Naturally, given the complexity of the entire endeavor, the effort requires a great deal of outreach, tracking, data management and communication.

That’s where other UB MPH students come in. They’ve been scheduling appointments, contacting people after their vaccines, scheduling and reminding people about second visits, entering data about people who received the vaccine, running supplies to and from sites, putting together COVID-19 testing kits for use, and more.

One student volunteer, Brett Conrad, whose public health concentration is community health and health behavior, has been contacting people to schedule their first and second doses of the vaccine.

“That I can make a tangible difference gives me a great feeling, especially being a public health student and seeing how the pandemic has unfolded,” he says. “People are exuberant when they get the vaccines. Most have been really grateful, and I’ve met some great people.”

Omar Abdel-Kerim is a first-year student in the MPH Individualized program. His role at ECMC’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic includes assisting with scheduling appointments, contacting recipients after treatment, scheduling second visits and calling to remind individuals of those appointments, monitoring patients who received the vaccine for any symptoms for 15 minutes, and more.

“Right now, we are vaccinating health care professionals and working on a schedule to distribute the second doses so that the different vaccines don’t overlap,” Abdel-Kerim says. “So far we have vaccinated over 2,700 health care professionals.”

All the students credit their time at ECMC with boosting their public health skills.

“I am learning a lot with this experience, gaining exposure in distribution planning and protocols, problem-solving, and evaluation and assessment of the distribution process,” Abdel-Kerim says.

In addition to his ECMC volunteer work, Conrad is a vaccine delivery coordinator for Aetna, scheduling and running COVID-19 vaccine clinics at three CVS stores and in long-term care facilities in Western New York. The two experiences have combined to add to several facets of his professional skills.

“I’m learning a lot about how to effectively lead a team and figure out scheduling. Also, on the clinical side, my bedside manner has improved. I’m interested in medical school, so it’s cool that I can manage things on a macro and micro scale,” Conrad says.