Alumni Profile: Jeremy Drehmer, MPH '08

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

I received a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology.

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

As a Program Manager in the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Research and Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, I am responsible for oversight of research projects related to tobacco control in the pediatric setting. I participate in developing and submitting new research grants as well as coordinating the implementation of several tobacco control research studies. A typical day involves managing budgets, designing and executing research protocols, participating in calls with scientists from around the world, supervising research staff, performing statistical analysis of data, and writing manuscripts for publication. One of my favorite activities is speaking at conferences to other scientists, physicians, advocacy leaders and community members about my research and important topics related to protecting people from the harmful effects of tobacco exposure.

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

I landed my first job in the field at the DePaul University Center for Community Research on a youth tobacco prevention study after completing my undergraduate education. I knew immediately that public health was for me. My passion for medical research was strengthened when I came to George Washington University to work at the Biostatistics Center on a landmark clinical trial that examined the efficacy of fetal surgery for spina bifida. The experience of working full-time with the incredibly talented researchers at the Biostatistics Center and attending graduate school at night to learn from the impressive faculty at the GWU SPH was an opportunity that I will always be grateful for. During my time at George Washington University, I developed a passion for improving public health through science and advocacy. After graduating from the SPH, I took a position in Chicago conducting pediatric-focused research in primary care settings. One of the studies I worked on aimed to provide assistance in the pediatric setting to parents who smoke. When that study had ended, I decided to join this research team at Massachusetts General Hospital because I felt strongly about the important work they were doing.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

You need to be passionate about the work you do in public health. If you are truly passionate for the cause, you will recognize that it is a privilege to have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. The energy you bring to your work will also inspire others to contribute to the cause.

I have received two pieces of career advice that have stayed with me.

The best career advice that I received was from a positive psychology professor of mine, Tal Ben-Shahar. His advice was to think about the things that you want to do in your life and write them down. Then examine that list of things and identify the things that you really want to do, and write these down. Then examine that list again and identify the things that you really, really want to do, and then go ahead and do those things. He told me, “Life is too short to do what we feel that we have to do; it's barely long enough to do what we want to do.”

The other piece of career advice came from a colleague and mentor of mine. When choosing a public health topic to work on, figure out what makes you outraged. Identify what makes you mad. In public health, that will often tell you exactly what you should concentrate on.

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

I advise people who want to work in tobacco control that they should relentlessly pursue the truth about tobacco and the horrific effects it is having on our society. Actively seek out those people who are smarter than you and who have more experience than you. Science and advocacy require effective collaboration among people so it is in your best interest to work with the brightest people you can find. Learn as much as you can about epidemiology, research design, and statistics, as the technical skills you acquire will give you the tools you need to do the highest quality work possible. Most importantly, realize that the practice of public health is often difficult. You will undoubtedly find many barriers in your way that will need to be overcome. To be successful in public health don’t be afraid to stand for the truth, even if that means standing alone.

What was the impetus for getting your degree at SPH?

I was inspired to get my degree from the SPH as a result of several life experiences. When I was growing up my grandfather died of lung cancer caused by years of addiction to smoking cigarettes. My family suffered greatly from this loss and even at the age of ten, I realized it was entirely preventable. When growing up in Chicago, a child in my neighborhood was shot to death in gang crossfire. While in high school a friend died in an automobile accident. Another friend of mine suffered permanent health damage as a result of a well-known foodborne illness outbreak. I realize that everyone has life experiences caused by public health issues. Examples are all around us. I appreciate the direct impact public health efforts have on our lives and I want to be part of this field in hopes that my work will help spare other families the pain of preventable deaths and disabilities.