Alumni Profile: Mitch Scoggins, MPH ‘03

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

I earned my Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Global Health Policy.

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

I am currently employed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare as the Manager of the Idaho Immunization Program.  There are 64 immunization programs funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the 50 states, the District of Columbia, several U.S. territories, and the five most populous cities in the country.  In Idaho the immunization program is responsible for the coordination of the federally-funded Vaccines for Children program which funds vaccines for low-income children; the state-funded vaccine program which provides vaccines for children who are not eligible for the federal program; the state immunization registry; immunization requirements for entry to school and childcare; and vaccine-related educational efforts for vaccine providers and the general public.

As with most administrative jobs, my days are filled with meetings, conference calls, personnel management, and the interminable barrage of emails.  When I am not doing that, I get to meet with medical providers and local health departments around the state to learn about their successes and challenges in keeping our population well vaccinated.

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

While attending SPHHS I was working in the information technology field. (It pays well and lends itself to flexible hours.)  Upon graduation, I began to seek work more applicable to my degree in global health.  It took about a year, but eventually I secured a position with an international non-governmental organization (iNGO) working on development projects in Madagascar.  I spent two years in that lovely country during which time I worked on projects including: family planning; HIV/STD prevention and control among commercial sex workers; child survival; agricultural and infrastructure systems development; and primary education.  As an added bonus I got to play with lemurs, which I am convinced are the coolest animals on the planet.

After two years overseas, I returned to the United States to explore public health programming in a more developed country.  I accepted a position with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare as the manager of a group of programs including genetic and metabolic services, newborn bloodspot screening, and Children with Special Healthcare Needs.  In December of 2010, following the departure of the previous manager of the immunization program, I was asked to move over to manage this much larger program.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

In most of the jobs I’ve held before and after attending SPHHS, whether I’m working internationally or domestically, I have the dubious privilege of spending a fair amount of time on airplanes. One notable time was just a couple years ago when I was seated next to the vice chairman of CH2M HILL (a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation). It is important to note that I was seated in economy class, and as my seatmate, so was he.

I do not remember how the conversation came around to the topic, but eventually we were talking about leadership, how people rise to it, and the potential pitfalls.  The gentleman, who went by the name of Bud, described how people rise to leadership within one or more sectors of their lives.  This could be in their business life, religious life, social life, or some other sector.  The individual demonstrates ability, willingness to exert effort, willingness to listen, caring, and other qualities that make people want to follow him or her, and over time his or her peers within that community advance this person into greater and greater leadership roles.  Bud went on to explain that at some point during this rise within a group, an individual’s ego may take over and he or she may start “believing his or her own hype.”  I remember really likening that phrasing, “believing his or her own hype.”  He or she may become arrogant and lose one or more of those qualities that caused people to want to follow.  Maybe the individual stops listening, stops exerting effort, or even stops caring.  These personality changes will generally result in those peers that elevated the offender withdrawing their support and seeking a new leader.

I have thought about this conversation many times since that day on the airplane, and I use the principles Bud described to “check” myself from time to time.  I ask, “How did I arrive where I am today? Who helped me get here? And do I continue to exhibit the qualities that were seen as valuable by my peers?”

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

For a new entrant into the field of public health, a graduate degree is absolutely necessary to be hired or to advance. I have been a hiring manager for over ten years in both the U.S. and international public health markets and so many of the candidates whose resumes I review hold master’s degrees or higher that I never need to consider those who do not. 

What was the impetus for getting your SPHHS degree?

I love to travel and am not wealthy enough to do a substantial amount of travel on my own.  During my undergrad years I took every other year off to work with various international disaster relief agencies. During those escapades I had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects such as water/sanitation and internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia, IDPs in Rwanda, rural education in Uganda along the southern Sudanese border, and refugees in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).  During my time in those areas that were either war zones or bordered on war zones, I started to recognize a common thread among most of the projects on which I worked.  Whether it was nutrition, safe water, sanitation, prevention of sexual violence, shelter, medical care or family planning, the underlying theme always was health. 

This realization would have been obvious to a public health practitioner, but I spent my undergrad years as a humanities major finally graduating with a degree in communication, so the scope of underlying public-health issues was a realization to me.  I missed my college graduation ceremony as I was traveling to Albania to work with the Kosovar refugees that were fleeing the ethnic violence in their home country.  By the time the Kosovar refugees in Albania returned home in August of 1999, I knew that public health was where I wanted to spend the rest of my career and what better way to start that with a MPH degree.

Interview conducted March 2013.