This is for everyone who has been confounded by the process of becoming a certified (not to be confused with licensed) California Public Health Microbiologist (PHM).
Here is my attempt to make it relatively simple: Education, Experience and Exam
EDUCATION: Let’s start from college graduation. You will need a bachelor degree or higher from an accredited school. Foreign transcripts are allowed but only the U.S. path will be discussed here. The application is on-line as of 2015-2016. You have to have enough credits, semester or quarter, and in the required subjects. The grade must be passing and not taken as audit or non-credit. For sure you need at least courses in what CA statutory law defines as the specialty of microbiology and the subspecialties of bacteriology, mycobacteriology, mycology, parasitology, virology, molecular biology, and serology for dianow sosis of infectious disease. Laboratory Field Services in the CDPH will evaluate your transcripts and if in line with law, will issue you a trainee letter which is your “approval to train”. $$ By the way, there are NO fees for PHM $$. You can thank the forward thinking County, State, Municipal Public Health Laboratories, associations and Laboratory Directors among others, for putting that in law back in the 1920’s so I was told.
EXPERIENCE: So now that you have your letter, where do you train and for how long? You must train with an approved Public Health Laboratory (PHL). You can find a listing of all PHLs (there were 38 at last count although some may close or merge and some are branches) from the Laboratory Director’s association website CAPHLD. You will need to contact each lab that is approved and inquire about training positions. Most are paid, minimally. Generally, only a hand-full of PHLs can train and only once or twice a year. The staff capacity of the lab usually determines how many students they can accept. Selection of students is by competitive interview. Training is for a minimum of 26 weeks and you must pass each section. Be proactive! There have historically been many more applicants than positions. Your approval to train letter does not expire so if you don’t get in today, keep trying.
EXAM: After you have successfully completed the training, the laboratory director/trainer must recommend you for the exam. You have to have shown aptitude, desire, moral turpitude, etc. and not simply passed all sections during training. You will be recommended to sit for the exam back at Laboratory Field Services either the LA office or Richmond office. The schedule is dependent on the Examiner staff for proctoring. An Examiner is a class position in Laboratory Field Services with a variety of functions but, in essence, is a laboratorian who has oversight and enforcement of clinical and public health laboratories and personnel. This is a great topic for another blog…. The exam is confidential so I won’t give you any real help there. Just think like a laboratorian who is testing to save us all from a zombie pandemic; like a Public Health Microbiologist ♥ Once you pass the exam, you are certified for life. No renewals. Job placement is, of course, not guaranteed.
˜ Final thoughts ˜
Why am I writing this? I spent many years with CDPH in titles such as Public Health Microbiologist Certification Coordinator, Consultant for CBRNE training, Supervisor, Examiner and Public Health Microbiologist. I found great happiness helping students navigate the State system to follow the PHM career path and even onward to Laboratory Director (another shortage needing to be addressed). I very much value the interaction, communication and relationships with laboratory staff, directors, students and agencies. I also appreciate the importance of competent, quality testing needed in our Public Health Laboratories. I write this to continue supporting CDPH and with the hope I bring clarity to a barrier of ambiguity in the process to certification. I do truly believe we need Public Health more than ever to keep communities safe, prevent the spread of disease and all of the critical services provided by the State and County Public Health Laboratories.
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