By Maryann Makosiej
Whether covering 3200 miles, researching public health strategies, or improving the Public Health programs at UVM, Dr. Jan Carney is always on the move.
It was a teacher that first impacted Dr. Carney’s life. A Southern New Jersey native and lifelong learner, she set her sights to become a physician in the fifth grade.
“I had a teacher whose husband was a hospital intern,” she said. “I loved science and I loved math and that was it.”
Carney attended Middlebury College and graduated with degrees in Biology and French. Soon after completing medical school at the University of Cincinnati, it was a conference detailing preventative medicine and public health that changed her life.
“I remember being there and thinking, oh my goodness, that we could prevent some of the conditions that patients had that I took care of,” she said. “Focusing on prevention in the population was just wildly intriguing to me.”
In time, Dr. Carney enrolled in the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and earned her Master of Public Health. The accomplishment was only the beginning.
“I had no idea I would end up being the Commissioner of Health for the entire state,” she said. “It was a surprise but a great surprise.”
In the job, Dr. Carney was involved in public health practice and was published numerous times. In one investigation, she worked with the Epidemic Intelligence Service to track an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in a wrestling team in Vermont.
Following her success as Commissioner of Health, Carney sought the opportunity to teach within the UVM Larner College of Medicine. Today, she is not only the Director of Graduate Public Health Programs but also Associate Dean for Public Health and Health Policy and a Professor of Medicine. They are roles she is deeply proud of.
“Education is really important but when I was at the health department, there was no easy way for people there to get a Master of Public Health,” she said. “And I thought we needed to have one.”
Today, the UVM Master of Public Health program has 125 active MPH students and is growing at an unprecedented rate since the pandemic.
“Since the pandemic, almost everyone knows what an epidemiologist is,” Carney said.
The pandemic has changed the face of public health. Carney knows this in particular. Upon reflection, she honed in on three areas of improvement needed for the future of American public health: an ongoing global commitment to a strong public health infrastructure, universal health care, and health equity.
“What am I most proud of that, that students are coming through our program, they're being successful in the program, and then they're working in the field of public health, and they're contributing to the betterment of the health of society,” she told me.
The future is bright for the Master of Public Health program. Further directives include exploring doctoral level education and developing “micro grads”, or non-credit six-hour online courses meant to provide a basic understanding of some tenant of public health. The intention, she said, is to provide “micro credentials” and ensure that education on public health is widely accessible.
When not teaching or working to improve the health of populations, Carney can be found participating in virtual races. Since the pandemic began, she has biked, cycled, or jogged 3200 miles.
Her advice to younger students interested in public health? Just do it.
“Medicine and health professions are extremely gratifying,” she said. Speaking about public health: “Now you'll never know their name, you don't know who they are and they don’t know who you are. But you still made a difference in their health.”