6 pandemic-fighting STEM careers in public health

STEM health careers
These days there are loads of medical gigs where you don't have to rock a white coat. Image: Shutterstock

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us just how life-saving STEM + health gigs can be.

In the last few months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has turned the world as we know it upside down. 

The virus, originating in China, has spread to almost 200 countries and six continents – and has already claimed 30,000+ lives. 

Helping to minimise the spread and flatten the curve is everyone’s job, but there are a number of specialised STEM professionals working harder than ever to find cures, treat patients and mine valuable data.

Here, we look at six STEM + health careers dedicated to fighting COVID-19 from the front line. 

RELATED: Virtual reality is transforming remote mental health care. 

1. Vaccine scientist

Arguably the most important career in the world right now is that of a vaccine scientist, who spends nine to five (and probably a lot more) working on important, cutting-edge public health projects. On their daily to-do lists? Preventing or curing diseases by attempting to develop, trial and execute effective immunisation programs. 

What skills are needed? With lab, production line and clinic-based work required day-to-day, an advanced knowledge of maths, cellular biology, biochemistry and microbiology are essential.

Study: A Bachelor of Science (Medical Science), The University of Sydney

2. Epidemiologist

Health science careers are traditionally associated with waiting rooms, stethoscopes and suiting up in scrubs, but there are loads of office-based medical roles that are just as key to saving lives. During a pandemic, epidemiologists use maths to collect, dissect and summarise health data – uncovering life-saving insights that can significantly impact how an outbreak is managed. 

What skills are needed? Did you see the #flattenthecurve infographics that went viral on socials when COVID-19 hit? They’re a visual example of how an epidemiologist’s maths, stats and science skills can predict and illustrate alarming health trends. 

Study: Master of Clinical Epidemiology, The University of Newcastle

RELATED: 8 health apps you could work for one day

3. Medical lab technician

Medical lab technicians work alongside physicians in hospitals, general practices, private clinics and research labs, carrying out tests to diagnose and treat patients. An average day might involve collecting blood samples, performing blood counts, carrying out tests to determine blood type and analysing fluids. During the COVID-19 pandemic, techs would be working around-the-clock to test as many symptomatic patients as possible. 

What skills are needed? As the gig is often patient-facing, a strong medical science background coupled with people skills are pretty standard prerequisites. 

Study: Diploma of Laboratory Technology, RMIT University

4. Pharmacy technician

Every chemist has at least one in-house pharmacy technician dispensing medications, reviewing prescription requests and liaising with patients. But the career also extends into hospitals, where there’s a little more lab time and work with IVs. During a public health emergency they have an important role in planning communications and may be the first-point-of-contact for patients experiencing symptoms. 

What skills are needed? Along with science smarts, a reliance on numbers proves pivotal when issuing dosages and prescriptions. 

Study: Diploma of Pharmacy, University of Tasmania

5. Biostatistician

What do you get when you fuse science and statistics? A day in the life of a biostatistician! They use maths to verify categories in biology, dividing their time between designing experiments and dissecting data. As key members of any pandemic-fighting research team they’re awesome at determining the risk factors and probable causes of a situation (with science) and advising government and public bodies on their findings (using maths). In this case of COVID-19 their research would be behind a lot of the introduced social distancing, self-quarantining and travel limiting laws. They do the maths behind the science.

What skills are needed? Stats, maths, biology and research brains.

Study: Master of Biostatistics, The University of Melbourne

6. Infectious disease physician

Infectious disease (ID) physicians act as clinic-based specialists, primarily concerned with treating patients with rare and difficult-to-diagnose infections and diseases. During a pandemic they work tirelessly to test as many suspected carriers as possible, interpret test results and medically manage those with the virus/disease/infection. 

What skills are needed? Extensive experience in all facets of clinical microbiology  and infectious diseases. Advanced maths is a serious plus (the study of microbiology relies heavily on graphs and geometry). 

Study: Master of Infectious Diseases, The University of Western Australia

Mentors 2.0

Get inspired via socials! These global maths + health experts are sharing their thoughts on Twitter.

Ellie Murray, Epidemiologist  @EpiEllie

Dr Angela Rasmussen, Virologist, @angie_rasmussen

Dr Krutika Kuppalli, Infectious Disease Physician, @KrutikaKuppalli

Dr Tara C. Smith, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, @aetiology

Simon Pampena, Australian Numeracy Ambassador, @mathemaniac

Irene Helenowski, Biostatician, @OrderofTheDimen

Keen to suss more health science gigs? Here’s a list of all the computer science ones we could think of.

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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