Meet Ashley Burman, MPH
International Health and Development
Technical Consultant, World Health Organization, Pakistan
Ashley made a declaration to herself as an ambitious fourth-grader that her lifetime goal would be to join the Peace Corps. This objective guided her schooling and led her to pursue international studies and political science as an undergraduate. With a focus on the Middle/Near East, Ashley finished college early and finally applied to the Peace Corps, receiving her two-year assignment to Moldova.
During her service, Ashley realized that her passion for international work was not going to be satisfied with two years in the Peace Corps...she wanted to do this the rest of her life. She knew that she needed the skills that would help her make an impact in the field, so she applied to the Master’s of public health program at Tulane University and soon began her studies.
Following graduation, Ashley was hired with the State of Louisiana Office of Public Health where she worked as a program monitor during grad school. As a result of circumstances within the office, she was quickly able to take on senior level responsibilities. She continued her work from home even after she and her husband Delayo Laurel Zomahoun, MPH moved to Atlanta, Georgia where Delayo was pursuing work.
Journey to Islamabad
While in Atlanta, Ashley met some neighbors who were employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They learned about her public health background and invited her to a Friday pizza night for lab workers and programmers of the Global Immunization Division.
During dinner, Ashley met a team leader of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Pakistan. He learned of her background and interest in working abroad and invited her to consider a job opportunity with the campaign in Pakistan. Within six months of the invitation, Ashley found herself on the other side of the world.
Daily Work in Pakistan
Ashley has now been in Pakistan for almost a year. Her main task is to oversee all of the post-polio vaccination campaign monitoring within the country and to ensure that these efforts produce reliable data. She has done this in part by streamlining many operations that were not in place when she arrived, such as initiating electronic data delivery and retraining staff based on international guidelines. Ashley also travels throughout the country to provide assistance to those who are conducting lot quality assurance sampling in the field.
Ashley handles all of the post-campaign sampling data. She receives nearly 36,000 data points every month which she cleans and interprets. Her reports are then used not only by Pakistani officials and initiative partners (WHO, Rotary International, CDC, UNICEF, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) but by international parties as well. These organizations rely on her data to measure progress in Pakistan and make decisions about polio eradication.
Ashley admits that she feels the pressure of her responsibilities but she is quick to recognize that she stands on the shoulders of many people who have made this campaign a success. She lauds the work of the Pakistani nationals who are on the ground conducting the vaccination campaigns, her influential coworkers who support her in her work, and the many individuals before her who have contributed so much to polio eradication in Pakistan.
Eradicating Polio in Pakistan
Ashley feels fortunate to be working in Pakistan at such a historic time. In the last two years, polio cases have dropped from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, and 5 this year. Predictions indicate that if polio is not eradicated by this summer, it will certainly be eradicated by the end of the year. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries that have never stopped the transmission of polio, so Ashley’s contribution is monumental for the entire world.
Advice for MPH Grads
Ashley offers great advice for MPH grads who are pursuing an international career in public health. She says it's important to determine the expectations of the organizations for which you work and what academic degrees they value. To obtain senior level positions within some organizations, it may be necessary to have another Master's, a DPH or a hD in public health.
For MPH grads who are newly graduated or who are still looking for a job in public health, Ashley’s solution is patience. She believes that something always comes, so give it time. Ashley has learned that it’s not a problem to start from the bottom if you are a hard worker. Recognition comes for hard work and those accolades will help you identify strengths and the paths you should pursue.
Ashley also talks about the importance of networking, but not the practiced elevator speech-type of networking. She says that the best type of networking occurs when you share who you truly are. In Ashley’s words,
And being herself led her halfway around the world, where she is doing exactly what she dreamed she’d do.
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