Practitioner Spotlight--Roberta Smith

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Courtesy of Antea Group - USA

Name: Roberta Smith
Office: Denver
Practice Area: Health and Safety
Area of Expertise: Occupational Health and Safety

About Me in 140 Characters:

I am passionate about worker health and I love having a rich and diverse career background to draw experience from. I enjoy cycling, running, swimming, biathlon, and knitting.

What area(s) of Health and Safety are you most interested in? Why?

Being a nurse, I am really interested in the health side of the Health and Safety practice. Occupational and public health has fascinated me ever since reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in middle school, and I am passionate about helping provide a safe work environment for employees.

My background in infection prevention gave me a very diverse knowledge of biological hazards in the workplace and that is probably my biggest strength and passion as a health and safety practitioner. I always say that my career has been a big circle, starting with a background in Environmental Health, Public Health, Infection control and Occupational Health nursing, and now back to Industrial Hygiene. Even though my career path might not be a straight line, I love how my circle keeps expanding.

If someone at a party asks what you do, how to you respond?

“I am a nurse industrial hygienist. I work in the field of worker health and safety. I can tell you what immunizations you should have for travel, life, and work, what PPE you should be wearing, and what the hazards of your job might be and how to prevent them.” If they are still confused, I say, “You know OSHA? I do that stuff”. A lot of times, if people have a rash they will generally show it to me at that point.

What do you consider your biggest professional achievement so far?

My biggest professional achievement so far has been implementing mandatory influenza vaccination requirements for healthcare workers within the state of Colorado. I am passionate about immunizations and the benefits they have for protecting workers from contagious disease. Although the influenza vaccination is not always 100% effective, when you have seen children die from acquiring influenza during a hospital stay, you understand how critical healthy healthcare professionals are to patient health.

I first established a mandatory program at Children’s Hospital Colorado. This program was a model program nationwide and I was enlisted by the staff at the Colorado Department of Public Health Immunization Program (where I had worked previously with adult immunization programs) to assist them and other stakeholders in passing mandatory board of health rules for the state. It was not an easy path but it was a great professional success for me to see the measure implemented. If you google my name + influenza you get to know my story pretty well.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I specifically remember how I answered this question in the 6th grade: 1. Professional Water-skier 2. Retail worker at Benetton 3. Architect. The answers to these questions prompted a parent-teacher conference.

What was your first job?

Technically my first job ever was as a lifeguard, but what I would consider my first professional job was a paid internship at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in the Consumer Protection Division. I had a great summer taking blood samples from sentinel chicken flocks looking for Western Equine Encephalitis (this was pre- West Nile Virus), collecting fleas and testing for plague, inspecting restaurants and dairy farms, and collecting blood from the eyeballs of mice looking for Hantavirus. It was an action-packed summer that really was a great introduction to Public Health.

If you had one month off, where would you go or what would you do?

I would volunteer with the CDC again to assist with the Polio eradication project. This was work I did as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire and I volunteered again with WHO and UNICEF in Niger in 2002 to assist with this project. The world is so close to seeing this debilitating disease eradicated, and I would like to be there during the final push.

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