A Pull Toward Public Health: Meet COPH Alumn Justin Frederick

Often, public health students feel drawn to the field early in their lives. UNMC College of Public Health Alumni Justin Frederick knows this better than most with his public health journey starting long before his formal education on the subject. In 2003, he took a temporary job as a Disease Investigator with the Douglas County Health Department, identifying the source of illnesses and preventing further spread of the disease. Despite having two full-time job offers, Frederick felt drawn to this role.

“There was a pull towards public health that prompted me to take a chance. I quickly developed a love for the field of public health and the unique work it entailed,” said Frederick.

During this time, Frederick recognized the importance of formal training in public health. He realized that acquiring the right knowledge and skills was essential to serve the community and progress in his career. This prompted him to pursue his Master of Public Health in Administration at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Shortly after starting this program, Frederick was promoted to Supervisor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology.

“Here, I gained valuable experience leading responses to various infectious diseases, with standout moments including the 2014-15 Ebola response and the ongoing challenges of COVID-19,” said Frederick.

Currently, Frederick serves as the Deputy Health Director and Chief of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Preparedness for the Douglas County Health Department. Here, he fulfills his goal of making a difference in his community.

“Knowing that my efforts, alongside those of the department, contribute to safeguarding and enhancing the lives of our residents is invigorating and inspiring,” said Frederick. “Engaging in a job that undeniably makes a positive difference brings me a sense of fulfillment and purpose.”

Frederick’s role involves responding to urgent wellness needs of the community, which frequently challenges Frederick and requires him to use what he learned from his degree. This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating the delicate balance between academic knowledge and practical application without disrupting people’s livelihoods was not an easy task, and yet, he took it on head-first.

“My education has equipped me with the exposure and tools necessary to confront the daily challenges of my profession,” said Frederick. Whether dealing with issues related to infectious diseases, translating data into action, developing plans, implementing an Incident Command System, fostering a culture of change, or demonstrating leadership, my education is the foundation of my success.”

The challenges Frederick faces do not stop at the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, Frederick’s department successfully managed two major responses with impressive execution. The first was a coordinated effort with local, state, and federal partners to stop transmission of Eastern Raccoon Rabies. If handled incorrectly or avoided, this threat could have caused a significant uptick in rapid animals. This would have led to human exposures and cost millions of dollars in prophylaxis.

The second response was a multi-agency and multi-organization effort to address an active case of tuberculosis. Since the infected person worked in a daycare, the incident exposed hundreds of children. This demographic is particularly vulnerable to severe disease.

“In both instances, the collaborative and well-executed responses underscored the effectiveness of our preparedness measures and the strength of our partnerships,” said Frederick.

Frederick’s passion for public health also extends outside of his job. Currently, he is a Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health member, a content expert for the National Board of Public Health Examiners and a member of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network with the World Health Organization, just to name a few of his many accomplishments. As a proud public health professional, Frederick doesn’t plan on slowing down in his journey for community health anytime soon.