Outbreaks and Oil Booms
Tracy Miller doesn’t like to be boxed in, whether it’s on the road or on the job. While the Montana native enjoyed her time in the Twin Cities as an SPH student and staffer at the Minnesota Department of Health, she says she was happy to leave the city traffic behind for a position as a field epidemiologist at the North Dakota Department of Health. In the next dozen years, Miller worked her way up through the state agency, always looking to expand her duties along the way.
Last November she was appointed state epidemiologist. It’s a position that allows her to combine traditional skills with projects that wouldn’t necessarily be available to her at a larger health department. For instance, Miller is tracking the health implications of the state’s incredible oil boom.
North Dakota’s oil supply now accounts for about 6 percent of total U.S. crude oil production, up from 1 percent less than three years ago. Experts believe the state’s crude oil production will double within the decade, putting it second only to Texas. The boom is attracting tens of thousands of people, many of them living in makeshift trailer towns dubbed by locals as “man camps.”
While the business is great for the state economy, Miller says there are concerns about maintaining safe roads, water supplies, and jobs. She’s proposed a project—with the University of Minnesota as a partner—to track the occupational safety of not just oil workers but also hotel, restaurant, and road workers. “The sheer volume of people coming to the state has resulted in an increase in injuries in several occupational fields,” she says.
In my work, it used to be mainly just doctors and nurses who understood public health. Now my contacts include police, firefighters, veterinarians, emergency responders, and others. It’s an array of fields that goes way beyond clinical medicine.
Since earning an MPH in 1999, Miller has experienced what she calls “a reemergence of public health,” ushered in by 9/11 and sustained by an era of bioterrorism fears, emerging diseases, and pandemic influenza. “In my work, it used to be mainly just doctors and nurses who understood public health. Now my contacts include police, firefighters, veterinarians, emergency responders, and others. It’s an array of fields that goes way beyond clinical medicine.”
Whether it’s her contacts or her responsibilities, Miller is grateful for the scope of her professional purview.
“Every day brings something different —surveillance, budget discussions, grant proposals, learning new technologies, connecting with people in the community,” she says. “It’s a great mix.”