Alumni Profile: Dale Furrow, MPH '03

What degree did you receive from GW's SPHHS? What was your concentration?

Master of Public Health with a concentration in Environmental & Occupational Health.

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

My current position with the Federal Reserve covers a broad spectrum of competencies which both directly and indirectly relate to public health. The unit I work for is part of the Law Enforcement component of the Board's internal structure. As such, we are tasked with a variety of programs covering four distinct disciplines - Safety and Occupational Health, Environmental Compliance, Emergency Preparedness and Response, and Continuity of Operations Planning. Our mission is to promote the proactive engagement of all Board employees by developing, communicating and educating staff on occupational safety and emergency preparedness standards to safeguard the safety and health of the employee population.

If I could describe a typical day, I probably wouldn't enjoy my job as much as I do, or feel as challenged and rewarded when the day ends without incident. In a given day I may find myself in front of a group of employees facilitating a classroom safety training on confined space entry, or in front of a Law Enforcement class providing guidance on handling and response to a biological threat. I may spend hours or days entrenched in the mundane world of program documentation review, and spend the weeks following performing hands-on job hazard analyses and workplace hazard assessments. I may spend a morning sitting on a working group panel discussing the minutia of contingency plans, and spend the rest of my afternoon segregating and packing hazardous waste for disposal. The following day I may spend the morning performing ergonomic assessments for economists, and transition to HazMat training in Level A personal protective equipment in the afternoon. The list goes on, but hopefully the point is clear - there's no such thing as a typical day.

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

My first job in the field is what brought me to GW SPHHS. With a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia, I entered the world of environmental consulting. Working for a locally based consulting firm, I spent the first three and a half years of my professional life as an environmental field technician and industrial hygienist. Most of my time was spent collecting field samples for everything from asbestos and lead to BTEX, arsenic, or coal tar pitch volatiles. It was there that I first became interested in how exposure to environmental contaminants would affect the people exposed to them during cleanup and response actions - before that, I was more interested in the environmental impact. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a job with the George Washington University in the Safety and Environmental, Occupational Health office as an EH&S (Environmental Health and Safety) Specialist. While working full time for GW, I was able to obtain my MPH. After a very pleasant 5-year stint at GW, I made the transition to the Federal Reserve.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Be practical. My mom told me when I was in high school that if you can't do what you love, at least be sure you love what you do. Very few people have the good fortune of choosing a career doing the thing they are most passionate about, and that's OK. However, if you don't enjoy the field you're in, it's highly unlikely that you will be motivated to do your best work. Find the thing you do well and enjoy doing, and you'll make a difference in people's lives.

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

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. My first job with the environmental consulting firm was not glamorous. The hours were horrible, the job sites were mostly hazardous industrial settings, there was always a potential for some type of occupational exposure to a variety of substances, and the pay was nominal. However, the life experience from working in these conditions gave me considerably more insight regarding the hazards truly present in the workplace and the importance of finding practical and sustainable solutions.

What was the impetus for getting your SPHHS degree?

It became evident while performing my jobs at both the consulting firm and at GW that having an applied understanding of the occupational setting was not adequate if I truly wanted to find ways to help protect people. After looking at several programs, I came to realize that the School of Public Health and Health Services offered the tools I needed to expand my horizons and learn to look at public health issues from a more holistic perspective.

Interview conducted May 2013.