Clark Lee first joined the University of Maryland community as an employee at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. With an interest in furthering his public health training, he began to pursue a master's in public health, and went on to pursue a Ph.D in Behavioral and Community Health. He works as a Senior Law and Policy Analyst Research Associate for the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

In one sentence, what is public health to you?  

Public health is a multi-disciplinary field that aims to maximize the physical, mental, and social well-being of all individuals in a population.   

What inspired you to study public health?  

As an undergraduate student, I studied the impact of long work hours and sleep deprivation on the alertness of resident physicians working in hospital intensive care units.  I especially enjoyed exploring the implications of this research for the health and safety of the general public.  Since that time, I have been very interested in public health as a field of study and practice.  In fact, I have spent my entire post-college career as a public health student and public health professional.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?  

In the United States, the public health field needs to do a better job selling itself as a public good that is worth the public’s investment.  Threats to public health are constantly increasing and evolving, but public investments in public health infrastructure are constantly being reduced and undermined.  Consequently, the public health field is (to an increasing extent) expected to do more with less.  Every public health researcher, practitioner, and student in the U.S. should be advocating for better investments in public health infrastructure and drawing the public’s attention to this issue.

At the international level, the public health field should focus on preparing for and responding to the threat posed by known and emerging communicable diseases that can evolve into global pandemics within a matter of days. 

Why did you choose public health at UMD?

In 2010, after working in the field of public health for a few years, I decided to formalize my public health training and pursue a master's degree in public health from a USM institution.  I soon discovered that among all the masters-level public health degree programs offered by USM institutions at the time, the MPH program in Community Health Education (now Behavioral and Community Health) offered at UMD was the best fit for my interests and career goals.  

Fortunately, I was admitted into this MPH program and matriculated in the Fall of 2011 as a part-time student.  Over the next 3 years, I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences with the program, including my interactions with faculty, staff, and students from all departments within the UMD School of Public Health.  These experiences were so rewarding that I decided to continue on as a part-time Ph.D student in Behavioral and Community Health after I graduated with my MPH in December 2014.      

What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program so far? 

My experience working on my MPH thesis has had the greatest impact on me so far during my time as a graduate student at the UMD School of Public health.  Actually going through the process of identifying a public health problem to address, articulating relevant research questions to investigate, designing a valid study to address the research questions, recruiting study subjects and collecting data from them, applying appropriate analytical strategies to the data collected, and reporting and interpreting results from the data analysis was an invaluable learning experience for me.  Moreover, the realization that I might have just discovered something new from my original research and that I might be the first person to have done so was a thrill that I will never forget and that I would love to experience again and again.

What is a typical day/work week like in your position?  

I currently work full-time as a Senior Law and Policy Analyst (Research Associate) for the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.  Since 2010, I have provided consulting services to the Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Services to update, operationalize, evaluate, and maintain the County’s public health emergency response plans and preparedness efforts.  In addition to my consulting responsibilities, I also study and write on issues related to the public health and safety hazards posed by sleepiness and fatigue in the emergency response provider community and in society generally. 

What’s a project that you’re particularly proud of?

As a public health preparedness consultant, I have developed strong working relationships with various public health programs in Montgomery County and have used these relationships successfully to enhance the capabilities of these programs, their staff members, and their clients to respond effectively to public health emergencies.

As a sleep researcher, I was recently invited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to participate in an expert discussion panel on strategies to improve public awareness, behavior, and education concerning drowsy driving.  I was honored to be considered an expert on this public health and safety topic.

What does your job teach you that goes beyond what you’ve learned in the classroom?

Nothing taught in the classroom can fully prepare students for the realities of the workplace.  Moreover, public health theory and concepts that are learned in the classroom are rarely (if ever) implemented perfectly and under ideal conditions in the real world.  

How has your job helped shape your research goals? 

My current job has given me a greater appreciation of the pressures that emergency response providers face and of the toll such pressures take on their health and safety.  This greater appreciation will likely influence my future research and professional activities in public health, and particularly in my work to address sleepiness and fatigue as a public health and safety problem.  

How has your job challenged you, and how were you able to meet those challenges?

I was a newcomer to the field of emergency preparedness when I started my current job.  To fill in the gaps in my knowledge, I sought the assistance and advice of more experienced colleagues in this field and was not afraid to ask questions when I did not understand something.  At the same time, I adapted and applied professional skills I had developed from my previous experiences working in government agencies and in the fields of health policy and public health.  

Published Feb. 2, 2016