Woods enjoys work in public health care

PARKERSBURG – After an internship and service as interim director, Jessica Woods is now the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department’s full-time regional epidemiologist.

Woods has a bachelor’s in math from Marietta College. She said during her senior year she began exploring career options.

“I searched math and science. I loved chemistry and the other health sciences as well as math, so I started looking into the field. I had actually never heard of an epidemiologist before,” she said.

She attended Ohio University and graduated in May with a master’s degree in public health.

“There are so few epidemiologists in our area. This position here at the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department is the only one between Columbus and Charleston. I went into general public health in disease prevention. It’s a wonderful way to help society, and this opportunity kind of fell into my lap,” she said.

Dick Wittberg, executive director of the MOVHD, said he’s pleased with Woods and the passion she brings to her job.

“I’m so impressed with her. She’s demonstrated so much passion around protecting the health of the residents and trying to make sure any oubreaks are contained, handled quickly before they can spread. She’s been very active, not just here, but she’s tied in at the state level also,” Wittberg said.

Woods served as an intern at the health department in December 2011-January 2012 working with Patrick Burke, whose position she would end up applying for after he left the area. Burke left the department here to take a job as an infection control officer at a private institution in Cincinnati.

Woods said she was glad she had the opportunity to work with Burke before he left the post.

“There was an outbreak of pneumonia in the area at the time. I did some surveys and really got a chance to experience the day-to-day work,” she said.

With family in the area and her husband, Shawn, working in insurance in Parkersburg, the opportunity to land a job in the Mid-Ohio Valley was a major plus for Woods.

“I love that I have the potential to work in the city of Parkersburg, but also to go out into the more rural areas of the county. I’ve really liked that opportunity,” she said.

Epidemiologists gather reports of disease outbreaks that are reportable in the state then investigate to try to contain the spread of the diseases.

“Depending on the circumstance, there are different protocol to follow, working to prevent others from getting it. We need to know early enough to implement preventive measures,” she said.

Part of her job is getting the word out, providing public information.

“I have made some presentations to community organizations, hospital groups, and I’m available to speak to any interested groups,” she said.

Burke left the department in January and Woods began serving as the interim epidemiologist. In June, Wittberg said she was hired to take on the full-time position.

Woods has received training classes at Emory University in Atlanta, with Centers for Disease Control personnel.

“We also have lots of ongoing educational webinars at the state level on everything from diseases to data quality, making sure investigations are performed correctly,” she said.

Woods said since she’s been here, the area has seen a difficult flu season for seniors, and she’s handled a foodborne illness outbreak.

Woods’ enthusiasm for her work is evident.

“I want to encourage young people interested in health to look at public health. It’s very exciting; it’s all about prevention. There are so many chronic diseases in our society, and prevention is key. There is more and more information as health care moves forward. Epidemiology is an option for a career,” Woods said.