August 3, 2020 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Even though she’s been a United States Public Health Services Commissioned Officer for more than a decade, Selena Ready DeConti still finds that she has to explain her job to others. She’s a pharmacist and a public health advocate. She’s worked with Native American tribes and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She’s been on the frontlines of hurricanes and mass shootings, Ebola and COVID-19.
She’s not done though. Not even close. Twenty years into her career, DeConti is completing the Arnold School’s Online Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior – Professional Program.
“Since I’ve begun my MPH program, I realized that my passion is all public health topics, and I want to be involved in advancing public health programs that are holistic,” DeConti says.
DeConti can trace the spark of this passion to the day she stopped by the local pharmacy in rural Georgia where she grew up. The teenager was buying flowers for her grandfather, who was in the hospital, and the pharmacist offered her a job.
Since I’ve begun my MPH program, I realized that my passion is all public health topics, and I want to be involved in advancing public health programs that are holistic.
-Selena DeConti, Online MPH student
“I said yes, and the rest is history because I really enjoyed working in the pharmacy, getting to know the patients and learning about the medications,” DeConti says.
After earning a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Mercer University, DeConti gained experience in palliative care and hospice. “It was an interesting field of pharmacy that integrated geriatrics, pain management, and compounding,” she says. “Now twenty years later, this area of healthcare continues to grow as people live longer with their chronic health conditions.”
In 2008, DeConti became a Public Health Services officer and moved with her family to northern Arizona to live and work on the Navajo/Hopi Reservation. For nearly three years, she helped develop public health programs (e.g., diabetes prevention, flu vaccine access, smoking cessation, obesity awareness) to support the local tribe communities.
DeConti’s next assignments brought her back to the East coast – this time to the Washington, D.C. area working with various divisions (e.g., cardiology/nephrology, risk management, pharmacovigilance) of the FDA. In addition to working with federal public health agencies on a daily basis, DeConti and her fellow officers are public health first responders – supporting state and local health departments during crises, such as hurricanes, disease outbreaks, suicide clusters, mass shooting and opioid overdoses.
As a team deployment leader, DeConti has worked in an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia and coordinated the movement of dialysis patients from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico during Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Most recently, she has worked with COVID-19 patients in federal medical stations across the country.
“I love the Public Health Service’s mission of serving, advancing public health, and responding to national disasters,” DeConti says. “I also love my family, and I’m thankful for their sacrifice over the years as I’ve advanced my education and career as a PHS officer.”
In December of this year, that advanced education will include an MPH from UofSC. Her program’s online format allowed DeConti to continue working and its curriculum fit her desire to deepen her understanding of public health program development, implementation and evaluation.
I love the collaboration of all the professors and their advocacy for our growth as learners.
-Selena DeConti, Online MPH student
Over the past two years, DeConti has built on her public health interests in the areas of opioid/substance abuse, nutrition and obesity programming – already applying much of what she’s learned during her day-to-day work. She also found mentors in Arnold School faculty members, particularly Sonya Jones and Ken Watkins.
“I love the collaboration of all the professors and their advocacy for our growth as learners,” DeConti says. “Dr. Jones has done a great job with providing expertise, direction, course content, life-application, and bringing real-time opportunities for public health work. Dr. Watkins has patiently listened to me ramble through concerns, problem-solving, and trying to figure out how to plan my courses.”
For other students considering an MPH, DeConti recommends working to develop professional skills first. “It’s difficult working full-time and studying, but I feel like you have a greater appreciation and desire to learn and more maturity that comes from your work experience,” she says. “These factors help you contribute to the course discussions and helps with the application of public health principles.”