Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is an example of how a collaboration between government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private businesses can contribute to addressing New Mexico’s most pressing public health issues. Project ECHO represents a partnership initiative between local universities, health care providers, tech companies, and state public health program directors working towards the goal of lowering the state’s rate of tuberculosis. The project was developed in response to the fact that in 2014 public health statisticians reported 50 cases of active TB in New Mexico. Projects like these rely on the expertise of professionals from a range of specializations, many of which are credentialed with the Master of Public Health.
New Mexico attracts educated and well qualified public health professionals because of the attractive job prospects available in the state, shown here as originally reported by the US Department of Labor in 2014:
- Community Health Workers – New Mexico has the fourth-highest concentration of these professionals in the nation.
- Environmental Scientists and Environmental Health Scientists – Los Alamos County offers the highest average salary for these professionals of all rural areas in the nation, while Santa Fe has the fourth-highest concentration of these professionals of all cities in the nation.
- Health Educators – Santa Fe has one of the highest concentrations of these professionals of all cities in the nation.
Numbers from the New Mexico Department of Labor also reveal strong growth projections for many careers in the state’s public health field during the decade leading up to 2022:
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors – 20 percent projected job growth
- Dieticians and Nutritionists – 15 percent projected job growth
- Rehabilitation Counselors – 14 percent projected job growth
- Emergency Management Directors – 13 percent projected job growth
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers – 12 percent projected job growth
In addition to the popular support that comes from making a positive contribution to the health and well being of all of New Mexico’s residents, the state’s public health professionals also receive financial support from a number of sources. In 2015 the National Institutes of Health awarded $20.7 million to organizations in the private and public sectors allocated for the purpose of supporting public health initiatives in New Mexico. That same year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded the New Mexico Department of Health a $2 million grant.
Facing New Mexico’s Public Health Challenges Head-on
New Mexico’s public health professionals are used to collaborating with colleagues from many different educational backgrounds. Public health initiatives can come in the form of inspections, initiatives, education campaigns, and the provision of services, to name just a few of its manifestations. Recent examples of public health initiatives in New Mexico that rely on a variety of specialized professionals include:
Disease and Infection Control
It is not uncommon for New Mexico to experience one or several cases of fatal infectious disease. In 2014 there were 17 confirmed cases of fatal infectious disease in animals, which infected two humans. Countering this lethal threat – which was responsible for the death of millions just a few centuries ago – are the state’s public health professionals:
- Epidemiologists – identify strands and trace sources of infections
- Emergency Management Directors – develop contingency plans in case of an epidemic
- Lab Scientists – analyze samples to determine possible methods of medical treatment
- Public Information Officers – communicate important information to the media and general public
- Program Directors – develop public health education campaigns that help the public understand how to avoid exposure and recognize symptoms
- Health Educators – conduct public health education sessions
These professionals work in both the public and private sectors to accomplish their duties. This type of approach is appropriate for a variety of disease threats, as was also recently demonstrated during the national outbreak of measles. New Mexico’s public health professionals have developed a response in the event of a measles outbreak that has been adapted from this response as a way to emphasize the importance of vaccinations.
Public Health Regulation and Inspection
While government authorities implement regulations and policy, both the public and private sectors in New Mexico hire public health professionals to ensure compliance. Public health professionals involved in food, water, and environmental safety carry the important responsibility of ensuring that the environment is safe for human habitation, including everything from air to soil.
Recently, the New Mexico Department of Health issued an alert for possible botulism poisoning, suspected of originating from food contamination somewhere in Lea County. This was after two adults were admitted to a hospital exhibiting signs of having ingested the toxin, which paralyzes the body’s muscles, including those used for breathing.
The state’s Department of Health also recently issued a warning about an alternative medicine that was found to contain high amounts of lead. Not only was this an immediate health threat, but lead poisoning is also known to have long-term negative health consequences, especially for children.
Earning a Master of Public Health in New Mexico
While a bachelor’s degree is often a requirement for entry-level public health jobs, a master’s-level education can qualify candidates for more specialized careers. Master’s of public health programs are available to professionals from virtually any educational background, as any bachelor’s-level undergraduate degree meets the qualifications for enrollment in this multidisciplinary graduate program.
A Master of Public Health is offered in both general and specialized concentrations, however all programs are required to include the five core disciplines of public health. Even a general degree will include study of each of these disciplines:
- Environmental Health
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
- Health Policy and Administration
In addition to an MPH, prospective public health professionals can also qualify for promising careers with an education in related fields. The following job vacancies surveyed in April of 2015 are examples shown for illustrative purposes of the types of qualifications in place for public health careers in New Mexico:
- Epidemiologist with the State of New Mexico – To qualify for an Epidemiologist-basic position with the New Mexico Department of Health, candidates will need to have a bachelor’s degree in Public Health, Social Sciences, Sciences, or Statistics. To qualify for Epidemiologist-advanced positions candidates must have a master’s degree in any of these subjects.
- Health Educator with the University of New Mexico – A branch of this university was recently looking to hire this class of professional to teach about community-based health services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Candidates were required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and three years of work experience, preferably in the fields of social work, or nurse case management.
- Program Director with Magellan Health in Albuquerque – This position requires incumbents to develop and maintain health care practitioner organizational systems for an assigned jurisdiction. To qualify, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree, while an MPH or MBA is preferred.
New Mexico’s Public Health Resources
New Mexico is home to numerous agencies that are dedicated to specific niches in the public health field as well as those that act as umbrella associations for several public health organizations. These resources are managed by the government as well as by non-profit and private agencies.
- New Mexico Environment Department
- New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD)
- New Mexico Department of Health (DOH)
- Turquoise Lodge Hospital
- New Mexico Cancer Council
- New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute
- Albuquerque Cancer Coalition
- New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The Supportive Housing Coalition of New Mexico
Private and Non-Governmental Organizations
- New Mexico Public Health Association
- Environmental Education Association of New Mexico
- New Mexico Water and Wastewater Association
- New Mexico Association for Infant Mental Health
- New Mexico Nurses Association
- Cancer Foundation for New Mexico
- New Mexico Mental Health Counselors Association