Melissa Olson

When did you complete your Fellowship?
I completed my fellowship from July 2006 through June 2008.

Where did you complete your Fellowship?
I was in the Southern Regional Office of the Division of Public Health.

What are you doing now, and where?
I am now the epidemiologist/evaluator for the Oral Health Program in the Division of Public Health.

How did the Fellowship contribute to your current situation?
The fellowship allowed me to work on a variety of projects, which gave me experience in some new areas and also helped me to build some relationships here at DPH and at the local health departments that are useful when looking for a permanent position.

Do you have any advice for current Fellows or those interested in the Fellowship?
It is a great opportunity to broaden or strengthen your experience and skills before looking for a permanent position. Take advantage of the flexibility of the program to make sure that you are getting everything that you need or would like out of the experience.

What types of projects are you currently involved in?
I provide both surveillance and evaluation expertise to the Oral Health Program.  We just recently completed our Burden of Oral Disease in Wisconsin report, which is a compilation of all of our most recently available data on oral disease, access to care, prevention programs, risk behaviors, education, and workforce.

We are now starting to do an elderly survey. This is an exciting project because it is a population with high disease burden and for which we have little or no data. We have selected a random sample of nursing homes throughout the state as well as senior meal sites. Now trained and calibrated dental hygienists will be going out to the sites and doing an oral health screening.

What are your main areas of interest within public health?
I have always had many broad interests in public health from chronic disease to infectious disease. However, I am much more interested in epidemiology than in policy. I have also always been very interested in women’s health and in international public health.

What is one public health-related activity in your community that you are proud about?
One of my favorite projects during my fellowship was working with the Beloit Infant Mortality Coalition. I grew up in Beloit, so it was nice to be involved in a much needed project in my hometown.

What is one public health achievement you think will happen in the next 25 years? What is one you would like to see in the next 25 years?
There are a lot of achievements that I would like to see happen in the next 25 years, which will happen, I’m not sure. Regarding oral health I would like to see that everyone has access to comprehensive and affordable dental care. Currently people covered under Medicaid have coverage for dental care, but are unable to find providers to take them or they have to drive great distances or wait a long period of time. There are limited places for uninsured adults to get care for free or at a reduced rate, which often results in unnecessary emergency room visits.

Another area that I would like to see great progress in and I think we will is in health disparities. While I don’t think that they will be eliminated in 25 years, I think that we will make progress since all of the work that we do now looks at where the disparate burden of disease lies so that we can appropriately target our programs and resources.