Alumni Profile: Benjamin Takai, MPH '09

What degree did you receive from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University? What was your concentration?

I received an MPH with a concentration in Epidemiology.

Please tell us about your current position. Can you describe a typical day?

Throughout the course of a typical day I generally wear several different hats as they relate to my role as a public health worker in infectious disease prevention. In my role as monitoring and evaluating HIV prevention for the DC government, I lead the design, implementation, and monitoring of the collection of HIV data from providers and organizations that report HIV testing and linkage information to the Department of Health. This includes designing data collection tools, processes by which providers report HIV testing and linkage information, and monitoring their activity through data analyses. I report these data to various entities including leadership at the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the DC Council, the office of the Mayor, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Using these data I receive from monitoring and evaluation of the various HIV prevention initiatives, I also make recommendations on how to engage high risk populations and identifying populations that need to be targeted in order to increase rates of testing and linkage.

Another hat that I wear is serving as the co-chair for the health subcommittee of the Mayor's office of Gay and Lesbian Affairs which I was appointed to by Mayor Vincent Gray in 2013. In this role I provide policy advice surrounding the prioritization of healthcare issues affecting the GLBT community and guidance on how to assess the healthcare needs of the GLBT community in Washington DC.

The third hat that I wear as an appointment by the CDC, is co-chairing the National HIV Prevention Program Monitoring and Evaluation Workgroup. This workgroup assists the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP) and the Program Evaluation Branch (PEB) with implementation of standardized monitoring and evaluation data requirements, strategies, and tools for HIV prevention program activities. The workgroup also provides guidance on other evaluation activities as they relate to White House directives, and other DHAP/PEB data requirement, collection, and data-use activities.

Please tell us about your path from the Milken Institute SPH to where you are today. How did you get your first job in the field?

While I was at GW, I had the good fortune of working with the DC Department of Health as an intern and having the bureau chief of the surveillance division as my preceptor for my practicum. After graduation I decided to look for an opportunity at a consulting firm to get exposure to a wide range of public health projects and worked at one for three years following my graduation. Having had the opportunity to work with a wide range of organizations including private firms, US government, and international governmental organizations, I had the realization that I wanted to be able to see the impact of my work as a public health professional both through working directly with HIV prevention providers and through policy change at a local level. I ended up reaching out to the preceptor of my practicum who pointed me towards opportunities at the DC Department of Health which has resulted in my current role.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Volunteering for tasks that nobody else wants to or can do, and doing them well with a good attitude, makes you an invaluable member of a team and is a great way to send a message to your supervisor and team members that you can do more challenging things.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Being able to communicate data effectively to various audiences as a vehicle for program and policy change is a must. It's not enough to be able to analyze a data set in SAS, it's translating those data to an audience that may not have the same scientific background in a way that can result in a desired change. Working specifically in the field of sexual health and HIV/AIDS, I think it's of absolute importance to be able to talk about sexual health, sexual practices, and opinions on sexual behavior openly and comfortably. Having any level of discomfort of being able to sit at a table of people you don't know and discuss condom use or sexual practices will severely limit people's trust in your ability to function in this field.

What was the impetus for getting your degree from the Milken Institute SPH?

After graduating from undergrad, I worked at two public health consulting firms and knew that if I wanted to be able to function at a higher level in public health I would need to augment my education.

Interview conducted May 2014