Jessica Bell-Johnson

Jessica Bell-Johnson, MPH

University of Memphis School of Public Health

How have you contributed to one of CDC’s priorities through your ASPPH/CDC Fellowship assignment? Explain what you have done that has “made a difference” at CDC and benefitted public health in the United States.

One of CDC’s priorities is incorporating more Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility into the development of the public health workforce. I, along with fellow Allycia Kleine, created an Unconscious Bias Training for Fellowship Mentors. The purpose of this training was to educate mentors about unconscious bias, allow them the opportunity to identify any potential biases of their own, and we provided tools on how to mitigate biases in the workplace and during the fellow selection process. We made this training available to all ASPPH mentors prior to the end of the fellow selection cycle and collected post-training evaluation feedback.

This training benefitted public health in the United States by allowing pathways for more diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Having a more diverse public health workforce allows for the understanding of specific needs within various communities across the country that may otherwise go unnoticed. Since racism is now considered a public health crisis, we can do our part as professionals to ensure we reduce racism in our work spaces and create an environment conducive to better serving our communities by identifying and removing our own biases.

How will your fellowship experience shape your career?

My fellowship position has already shaped my career. I graduated from Graduate School with a concentration in Epidemiology. I was able to research and publish using the learned Epidemiologic skills, and now I am afforded the opportunity to shift and learn different facets of the CDC as an agency. Although I am doing less research, I am now continuing to develop skills I have in leadership, communication, presentation, logistics, and education. My career is now focused more on educational development, building our relationship with external partners, and strengthening the Public Health workforce, which is vastly different than how my fellowship/career began in 2018.

Describe specifically some of the relationships/partnerships you have built through the fellowship and how those relationships have helped/will help you in your career.

I have had the pleasure of forming multiple relationships during my fellowship. The first notable relationship I built was with my first mentor Jacek Mazurek, and the entire Surveillance Branch in the Respiratory Health Division at NIOSH. With Jacek’s assistance, I was able to build my career by having two abstracts accepted so I could present my work at two different national conferences, and eventually published a full-length article in the CDC’s online article the MMWR. I still keep in contact with Jacek and other Branch colleagues, especially when I get
periodic phone calls or email inquiries regarding pneumoconioses. I can point those with questions to the appropriate contact person.

A second notable relationship I had the pleasure of cultivating was with my current mentor, LaVonne Ortega. I knew I was not going to stay in Morgantown, WV after the completion of my first fellowship year due to family circumstances, and LaVonne worked with me every step of the way to get me situated in my new position in the Population Health Workforce Branch in CSELS. She didn’t even have an open fellowship position available when I first contacted her, but she worked with me (and my persistence) to find a space for me. Now we are working on
making my position permanent within her APIH team, thus moving my career to the next level.

I have also built relationships with other ASPPH fellows Katie Sives, Allycia Kleine, and Kendra Wilson. I have spoken with Katie about potential FTE positions within CDC on numerous occasions, her process of migrating from being a fellow to her current FTE position, and how to navigate any transitions. Allycia and I work really well at collaborating on projects and discussing our visions for APIH, and Kendra is a helpful resource when partnering with her Branch.