Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kenyatta Stephens, PhD

Kenyatta Stephens, PhD, UNE Online Faculty and Subject Matter Expert

Dr. Kenyatta Stephens

Dr. Kenyatta W. Stephens, CEO of SAPHE Consulting Group, LLC, is an Adjunct Professor for the Graduate Programs in Public Health at UNE Online. She is an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist with years of advanced training and professional experience in diverse public health areas including disease surveillance, bioterrorism preparedness, epidemic/outbreak management, and HIV/AIDS research.

Her current work surrounds the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases, future epidemiologic/outbreak trends, emerging infectious diseases, and data science technologies.

If you’re considering a future career in epidemiology, keep reading to learn more about Dr. Stephens’ first-hand experience in the field.

How did you become interested in epidemiology?

It was when I was a part of the cervical cancer research team that I met my first epidemiologist, and that piqued my interest in the field. For the first time, I considered the other side of the disease – prevention and intervention – and not just the testing side and reporting aspects of disease. I was able to see the disease on the population level. And that really got me thinking.

Learn more about earning your MPH with a focus in Epidemiology at UNE Online

What is your day-to-day work life as an epidemiologist?

When I was a field epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), my day-to-day work varied depending on what was going on. If I wasn’t on-site investigating an outbreak, then I’d be analyzing data. And for two of my years at the CDC I traveled to developing countries to set up surveillance systems.

Last year I started my own epidemiology consulting company. As an epidemiological consultant, I work with the state and small businesses teaching them how to keep their employees safe, from an outbreak perspective. I teach them what to look for, and we cover all of the steps for disease mitigation.

Could you tell us more about your consulting work?

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic sent office workers home, but many businesses are now planning to return to the workplace and looking to their state for guidance. I consult with states regarding how their return to office policies should look, what language to use, and what to share from an epidemiological standpoint.

Do you like what you do?

I love it. It’s exciting work for sure! I am able to help people by solving data puzzles. That may not excite some people, but for me, it is thrilling. My career as an epidemiologist has also provided me with opportunities to travel all over the world and meet tons of interesting people.

It is a career that certainly keeps you on your toes. When you’re working on an outbreak or doing outbreak management you’re deployed in an area and given limited information. You need to interview people and try to track down the original source of the outbreak, patient zero.

No two days are the same. No two outbreaks are the same.

Has there been a particular individual who’s influenced your career?

I wouldn’t say one particular individual, no. I met several epidemiologists along the way, and I learned from multiple people who all played a role in helping me figure out my career path.

I was able to take the best pieces from everyone I encountered and really make my career my own.

Learn more about earning your MPH with a focus in Epidemiology at UNE Online

What would be the single most important piece of advice you could give to someone going back to school to pursue a future career in epidemiology?

Epidemiology work definitely requires you to have strong math skills to analyze large sets of data. It also requires you to be flexible. If you work as a field epidemiologist, your day-to-day routine can change in an instant. If you’re on call, one minute you could be at your desk, and an hour later you could be flying to another state or another country to investigate an outbreak.

I guess my best advice would be to find your niche. The field of public health is very broad. There are lots of opportunities to do work that you are passionate about and that’s what really matters – whether it’s epidemiology or another public health discipline.

What have been some of your more intriguing cases?

There have been so many interesting cases! In one I investigated, a seemingly unrelated group of people were exhibiting the symptoms of anthrax poisoning. When my team interviewed them all, the one and only thing they had in common was that they had all recently attended a drumming circle event. It turned out that the leader of the drum circle had just received a new shipment of drum heads from somewhere in Africa, and the drum heads were found to have anthrax spores on them!

What was your education path to becoming an epidemiologist?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. I went on to get my Master’s in Public Health (Epidemiology), and from there I earned my PhD in Public Health Epidemiology.

Outside of higher education, have you done any additional training or received any certifications related to your career?

I went through field epidemiology training which I’ve found to be very helpful. I always recommend that if you can get some field epidemiology training you’ll find it to be the most beneficial when it comes to an outbreak.

There are a lot of subspecialties to epidemiology. I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist by training, but there’s also chronic disease epidemiology, nutritional epidemiology, pharmacoepidemiology, and on and on.

When you’re looking for additional training, it just depends on what your interests are, but since epidemiology has become more popular, there are many options for additional training regardless of the subspecialty.

And last but not least, could you tell us which online courses you teach for UNE’s MPH program?

In the past, I’ve taught Principles of Public Health and Applied Epidemiology. Currently, I’m teaching the Principles of Epidemiology course, and I am the Subject Matter Expert for Biostatistics and Epidemiology. I’m currently working on some course redesigns.

Learn more about earning your MPH with a focus in Epidemiology at UNE Online

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