Epidemiologist with a dual degree in social work set to begin career with Defense Health Agency

Frances Dean

Frances Dean, MPH, MSW

Epidemiology, Social Work

Thanks to her internship with the federal government and a dual degree from the University of Michigan, Frances Dean has positioned herself for instant success.

Now that she has earned a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the School of Public Health and a Master of Social Work Master of Social Work in Interpersonal Practice in Integrated Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse from the School of Social Work after graduating in December, Dean is committed to working in the public health field for the federal government for the next two and a half years as a behavioral epidemiologist.

Starting in January, Dean will begin working for the US Army Public Health Center, a division of the Defense Health Agency, picking up where she left off in August when she completed a summer internship as a research assistant for the Department of Defense (DoD)

“The training I received during my internship will come in handy because there will be some clinical work involved where I could work with active-duty military directly at a health clinic back at the base where I was working in the summer,” she said. “The Department of Defense funded my education at Michigan for two and a half years, so I will begin paying back my obligation by working for the DoD for two and a half years.”

During her time at Michigan, Dean was a Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholar. SMART Scholars are provided with the tools required to pursue their STEM education and begin their career in a prestigious civilian position with the DoD.

The DHA is a joint, integrated Combat Support Agency that enables the Army, Navy, and Air Force medical services to provide a medically ready force to Combatant Commands in both peacetime and wartime. The DHA completed a four-year transition in October to assume authority, direction, and control of the DoD’s more than 400 clinics, hospitals and medical centers.

Dean was born in New Orleans and grew up in Texas. After high school, she attended the University of Georgia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion and Behavior and a Global Health minor with honors from the College of Public Health.

While looking at graduate schools, she was drawn to Michigan for a few reasons: its impressive rankings and a growing interest in psychiatric epidemiology. Michigan Public Health is the No. 2 public school for public health and Michigan Social Work is ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings.

I wanted that clinical aspect in epidemiology, but I also wanted that quantitative aspect to help me understand the distribution of psychiatric and mental disorders as well as behavioral and developmental disabilities and how they can affect people individually and at a population level.”

“At the time, the University of Michigan was the only program that had an option to do self-initiated dual degrees, so I wanted to do an MPH in epidemiology while also pursuing the social work degree,” she said. 

Dean reached out to Briana Mezuk, associate chair of the Department of Epidemiology, and asked questions about her background and to see if other students have pursued a similar trajectory in epidemiology.

“I wanted that clinical aspect in epidemiology, but I also wanted that quantitative aspect to help me understand the distribution of psychiatric and mental disorders as well as behavioral and developmental disabilities and how they can affect people individually and at a population level,” she said. “I think it’s important to have that wide scope of experience when I graduate. 

“Coincidentally, Dr. Mezuk became my advisor when I enrolled at Michigan Public Health.”

While she was at Michigan Public Health, she worked with or was a member of several public health organizations, not to mention many social work organizations. Some of them include the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health (CSEPH), Students Engaged in Global Health (SEGH), Public Health Students of African Descent (PHSAD), and Public Health Student Assembly (PHSA).

Her schedule was certainly busy, but also fulfilling.

“At first, I didn't necessarily think I could do epidemiology just because I knew it was a lot of math and even though I am good at math, I didn't necessarily think I was good at science,” Dean said. “As I got into the program, however, I started to find my routine and I got better. I started to get more comfortable with some of the course content that we had to go through for epidemiology for both schools.”

For her internship this past summer, Dean worked at the US Army Public Health Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, outside of Baltimore. Her project was focused on physical victimization and mental health barriers among lesbian, gay and bisexual service members compared to heterosexual service members. 

“The objective was to find out if there is a relationship between sexual orientation and physical victimization among service members,” Dean said. “The second objective was to figure out if there was an association of mental health barriers and sexual orientation among those who indicated being physically assaulted.”

Dean is appreciative of all the support she has received during her time at Michigan, and she wants future students to know that support is available for them too—so don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities.

“I would just say to try your best to take advantage of everything that you're offered; don't be afraid to ask your professors questions if they know of any opportunities for funding,” she said. “Especially when it comes to taking on an opportunity that may boost your career, don’t be afraid to ask them for help or how to apply for jobs or share your resume because you never know what’s out there until you look.”