Meet Environmental Health Professionals

Lieutenant Jasen Kunz
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, CENTERS FOR DISEASE
CONTROL AND PREVENTION ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES BRANCH
PLACE OF WORK: GOVERNMENT AGENCY

1. Why did you choose to pursue a career in environmental health?
I wanted to do something to keep people from becoming sick. I thought about going to medical school, but decided to study public health, especially the determinants and distribution of diseases in populations (epidemiology) and how disease transmission could be prevented as opposed to clinically treating disease.

2. What advice would you give students considering enrolling in an accredited environmental health program?
Take a generalist approach to the field. It can be very advantageous to your career and the people you serve to have a broader perspective on public health and environmental health. In other words, there is so much diversity in the field of environmental health, explore the complete career field and then you will find your passion.

3. What characteristics do you think make someone successful in the environmental health field?
Success can be achieved through thorough academic training combined with a broad perspective on related issues supported by continuously learning about the ever-evolving field of environmental health. There are always new environmental systems and diseases to explore and so it is critical that you are inquisitive and open minded.

4. What do you do? Can you describe your main duties? In other words what makes your job interesting, unique or important?
My primary duty within the VSP is the investigation of gastrointestinal illness outbreaks aboard cruise ships. In this capacity, I may function as the epidemiologist or as the environmental health officer, depending upon the outbreak investigation team make-up. This is when I investigate disease outbreaks with the intention of tracking down the sources of the contamination. I try to identify causes that resulted in the breakdown in the environmental system(s) so it can be corrected and outbreaks prevented in the future.

When not conducting outbreak investigations, I am involved with conducting operational inspections of the environmental systems on cruise ships such as food preparation and storage facilities, potable and recreational water systems, integrated pest management (IPM), medical records, house keeping and ventilation systems. In addition I provide training cruise ship personnel on how to prevent the spread of diseases and illness.

5. What would the world be like without people like you doing your job?
In the early 1970’s, before the VSP existed, there were a rash of bacterial outbreaks on cruise ships. This presented a problem from a public health standpoint, not to mention the disappointment to those suffering from bacterial gastrointestinal illness while on their vacation! Today, outbreaks caused by bacteria associated with poor environmental health practices aboard cruise ships are very few in number and most often are associated with time spent in the ports of call. Now, there are other public health issues that we have to deal with. The battle continues…

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