The UCLA School of Public Health Laboratory Science Program

In 2007 the state of California established a doctoral program focused on preparing individuals for a career as public health laboratory directors. This program provides a generous stipend and other benefits, but requires that prospective students be USA citizens, or permanent residents, and pass a criminal background check. In addition, candidates must have a lecture and laboratory course in pathogenic microbiology. After acceptance into the Program, students are required to sign a "Pay-Back" contract with UCLA that stipulates a year of employment as a California Public Health Laboratory Director for every year of support received.

What are Public Health Laboratories? By the name alone it is obvious they are a component of Public Health Departments, but exactly what is their role and why should you consider a career as a Public Health Laboratory Director? To address the first question - the primary function of a public health laboratory is to offer support for public health programs. Its services are directed at the prevention and control of disease and the improvement of the community health. The core functions of a public health laboratory are distinct from that of a clinical laboratory such as a hospital laboratory or other medical laboratory.

A public health laboratory examines specimens for the identification of a disease outbreak, with isolation and identification of a causative agent, determination of the source of infection, identification of carriers, discovery of insect or animal vectors, and location of sources of infection in the environment and on fomites. It also tests for diseases of public health importance that are too rare and unusual to be identified by other laboratories, such as rabies and botulism, and organisms such as drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV.

Although being part of the Disease DetectiveTeam is an important part of its role, it is not the only one. Public health laboratories conduct environmental testing both microbiological and chemical for quality of water and air, pollution of large bodies of water, and safety of swimming pools and beaches. In addition, testing for cancer-causing agents such as pesticides and radiation, and assaying for lead in both blood and environmental sources are done.

Population surveillance studies, such as neonatal screening for metabolic disorders, immune status screening, screening for risk factors, and for chronic diseases are performed in public health laboratories as well as genotyping of various microorganisms isolated from the community. Collation of this type of data makes the public health laboratory an important information center.

In response to an increasing concern about the public vulnerability to biological and chemical terrorism events, the public health laboratories have been given an additional role - the first line laboratory response to an overt terrorism act. In this role, a network of public health laboratories is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop rapid sensitive and specific assays for such potential biological agents as those that cause anthrax, botulism, and plague as well as for potential chemical agents.

The future for public health laboratories is exciting, the newest molecular techniques and instrumentation are available, and opportunities to be a PH Laboratory Director have never been better. Because of a change in federal laboratory law and the existing California laboratory law, only individuals with doctoral degrees and the requisite body of knowledge can qualify to become PH Laboratory Directors in California. Of the 39 public health laboratories, there are now 15 available director positions in California and more scheduled to occur in the next ten years as the present directors retire. There are only two programs preparing individuals for this exciting career, one at UCLA and one at UCB. Both programs have limited enrollment ensuring that opportunities will always exist for graduates.

Individuals accepted into this career path doctorate have a required curriculum that deviates slightly from that described in the Department of Epidemiology student information handbook. The M.P.H. degree is required as noted in the handbook, but the doctoral degree requirements are modified to include business and molecular biology courses. For further information, please contact:Dr. Sydney M. Harvey


For additional admission information, please CLICK on this link.

Dr. Harvey Students, please CLICK on this link.


For Information about the State of California LabAspire Program Click on this link.





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