Studying Epidemiology online – Leah’s story

Leah Pilossoph, from the USA, is a second year Epidemiology by Distance Learning student. She tells us how she is finding the programme so far.
Leah Pilossoph

Please explain a bit about your academic/professional background  

I studied BSc Nursing and Biostatistics at the City University of New York and have over a decade of experience as a registered nurse in the fields of oncology and critical care. In my clinical roles, I assisted in leading the rollout of updated electronic health records systems (Epic) at multiple academic hospitals in New York City. This piqued my interest in the intersection between healthcare and technology.

I then completed an advanced certification programme in data science and machine learning from the Flatiron School in New York City. Since becoming a data scientist, I've worked with several health education and health care organisations on projects specialising in applying natural language processing and predictive modelling to various healthcare applications. This included: the development of predictive modelling algorithms to screen skin cancer risk using crude patient lesion images; developing a predictive model using natural language processing that ingests social media text to predict suicide and depression risk; an algorithm which predicts breast cancer stage and prognosis using the data found within pathology reports.

Why did you choose to study your course with LSHTM?  

I had narrowed my search down to various well-known and renowned schools in the public health sphere. I chose LSHTM because of its flexibility and self-directed learning model with a huge amount of support from heavy lifters in the field of public health, epidemiology, and global health policy. I had also read about their blended learning option, where you are able to take a semester in London, and became really interested in supplementing my studies this way. 

How did you hear about the programme?  

I had heard of the programme initially just by knowing and reading interesting articles written by various authors in the field of public health and epidemiology who had graduated from LSHTM. Once I had seen enough relationships between these interesting pieces of literature and the School, I knew there was a connection between LSHTM and excellence in practice upon graduation.  

What have been your favourite aspects of the programme?  

I love connecting with the tutors and achieving my many "a-ha!" moments directly from their support. I am traditionally an extremely independent learner, which is partly why I chose this programme, but the content of some of the courses can be very new to me and quite abstract. I have found tutor interaction and support particularly beneficial in the statistics realm and in applying software tools such as STATA and Berkeley Madonna to epidemiological data and problems. 

Having a pending master’s degree from a prestigious school such as LSHTM fulfils many of my career goal qualifications. It has helped me to land a job in quantitative clinical analytics and it continues to boost me as I climb my organisation's career ladder.

How has the programme helped you in your career? 

This programme has opened many more doors for me. Having a pending master’s degree from a prestigious school such as LSHTM fulfils many of my career goal qualifications. It has helped me to land a job in quantitative clinical analytics and it continues to boost me as I climb my organisation's career ladder to achieve my professional goals.

What skills have you gained from studying this programme?  

New skills include working with new computational software, applying epidemiological concepts to applied clinical analytics in my line of work, and becoming a better writer. Hopefully soon I will be able to say that I am a published author affiliated with LSHTM. 

Have you been able to connect with other students? How have you done this?  

The discussion boards in all of my courses have been great for student interaction and these conversations have also supplemented my learning tremendously. Hopefully next year I will be able to participate in the blended learning aspect of the programme so I can interact more directly (and maybe in-person!) with the faculty and students.

What are your plans for after you complete your studies?  

I think I will always be in academia to some extent, as the fields of epidemiology and global health are constantly evolving. You must be comfortable to always be a student of new trends, information, and evidence. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this and studying at LSHTM during this time really showed how flexible it is as an institution in terms of ingesting and incorporating new knowledge into its curriculum. You'll never know "everything" in epidemiology or global health because change is constant. To that end, I think LSHTM has a great connection to its alumni which facilitates keeping that educational spark ignited. I plan to stay abreast of the current epidemiological trends and to learn new skills in clinical analytics and applied health data science to keep growing in my career.  

What advice would you give to someone considering studying your course at LSHTM?  

I would say dive in and don't look back! You'll gain so much knowledge and a great network at LSHTM. 

Please sum up your experience of studying by distance learning with LSHTM

I would describe the theme of my experience at LSHTM as flexibly enlightening, as I've been educated in an environment that welcomes pliability and adaptation within its learning. This has helped me grow both as a student and as a professional in my career. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of how LSHTM's flexibility and prestige really made the best of a devastating global situation and nimbly turned this into a learning opportunity by incorporating this human and epidemiological experience into its curricula and policies.  

Tell us a bit about you – what do you do when you’re not working or studying?  

When I am not studying, I love being active and playing sports such as basketball, skiing, and swimming. I have a passion for travel and immersing myself in other cultures. I also love being outside, whether camping in the woods, or relaxing on the beach. My husband and I welcomed our first child last year, so lately I've enjoyed experiencing motherhood and the world through my son's eyes. Much to my husband's dismay, I also enjoy rescuing senior dogs, and if I had it my way, our house would be a nursing home for canines in the twilight of their life! Until I can realise that dream, we have our senior rescue, Blinky, who fills our house with love and doggy snuggles.