Who Works in Public Health?

Kim Edelman, MPH
Epidemiologist, Center for Health Statistics
Minnesota Department of Health

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Kim EdelmanKim Edelman is an epidemiologist with the MDH Center for Health Statistics (MCHS), where she’s worked for over a decade. MCHS coordinates collection and analysis of Minnesota health-related data at the state and local levels. Kim has a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Minnesota.

What attracted you to public health, and why did you decide to become an epidemiologist?

I first became interested in public health in the early 1990s. There was a lot of talk at that time about health care reform and how to reduce health care costs. I felt strongly that prevention and public health was the key.

Kim Edelman
"After about three years of
working for brokerage firms,
I realized I needed a change."

In college, I wasn’t quite sure what “public health” meant. My undergraduate degree was economics, so after college I worked in the financial industry. After about three years working in brokerage firms, I realized that I needed a change.

I wanted to find a job in which I could utilize my analytical skills and improve the peoples’ health. Public health seemed like a very good fit. As a graduate student I took a class from John Oswald, with MDH's Center for Health Statistics (who is now her boss), and that helped me decide that I wanted to be an epidemiologist.

Describe your job.

I work with local public health departments, providing them with data and technical assistance on how to use the data. I make sure that health data is available to the public through the internet and reports.

In addition, I serve as the evaluation coordinator for the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative (EHDI), with the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health (OMMH) at MDH. To reduce health disparities, we need to identify programs that work; the evaluation component of the EHDI helps to build the evaluation capacity of our grantees.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy traveling to visit the local public health departments all across Minnesota. Visiting the local departments is important, because it helps me get an understanding of what they do for their communities.

What do you find to be most challenging about your work?

It’s challenging not to have all of the data at my fingertips. We are very limited in the public health data we can get. There’s a lot of data available on birth and death certificates, but there are large gaps in between. This data is important because we use it to assess the health of Minnesotans.

For example, in working to address the elimination of health disparities, Minnesota could really benefit from having more information on the health status of populations of color and American Indians. We know that health disparities exist, but we don’t always have all the information we need to help communities develop the best programs. Minnesota’s racial and ethnic communities are growing, but their numbers are still relatively small. Having a “small sample size” presents issues when it comes to ensuring accurate data analysis.

What do you think will impact the public’s health in the future and why?

I think that the economy, and how it is doing will impact health. Recently, public health has been looking more closely at socioeconomic factors—like employment and level of education—and how those factors impact health. The economy has a big impact on health. Also, aging…the baby boomers will have a big impact on health in this country. It will affect how we prioritize health resources in the future.

Can you give an example of a time in your career when you felt that you made a difference?

At the Center for Health Statistics we make a difference by providing tools that make it easier for the locals to do their community health assessments and data analysis. With our assistance local public health can spend less time doing assessments and more time implementing programs that improve the health of their communities.

Who are some of your mentors or public health heroes?

My co-workers in the Center for Health Statistics are all very talented people. I feel very lucky to know and work with them. I also think that Gloria Lewis (the former Director of the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health) is a great person, and I feel lucky to have worked with her. It was inspiring to see how she could light up a room and get people excited about public health.

Kim Edelman
"Being creative helps make data
more interesting to people."

What are five words that you would use to describe yourself, and how do they help you in your job?

I would say that I’m, flexible, creative, funny, loyal, and quick on my feet. You need to be flexible in public health, because things change quickly. It helps to be creative, because we sometimes have to do more with less money. Being creative also helps make data more interesting to people.

Are there any books or movies you’d recommend to people interested in public health?

Yes, this past summer I read two books that I would recommend. One is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and the other is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. Both books deal with different cultures, one in Afghanistan and one is Laos. I think it’s really important for those of us who are from the U.S. to see what it’s like to come from a different country, and adjust to a different way of life in the United States. It’s important to know about other cultures and respect them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring public health professionals?

I would say: Take time to explore all of the options of public health. There are many different careers. Talk to a lot of people; you’ll find that people in public health are very friendly and very willing to share their experiences with you. There are a lot of good people in public health. It’s a challenging, rewarding and exciting field.

If you would like to contact Kim, she can be reached via email at: kim.edelman@state.mn.us

2006

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