Emily Guthrie ’18 MPH admits that her job title at the Lynchburg Health Department — environmental health technical specialist — is a “mouthful.”
Add to that the fact that she is the technical consultant for the Central Virginia Health District Food program, which deals with food safety and inspections, and she’s training to be the district standardization officer, the individual who would oversee those inspections.
Put all that together and what you’ve got is a very busy graduate of the University of Lynchburg’s Master of Public Health program — and someone who’s loving every second of it.
“I love my job,” Guthrie said. “I like the variety of it. No day is the same. I’ve always known a lot about food safety so it just made sense to go in that direction. I like working with people. A lot of my job is education, educating food service managers about food safety. How it can improve and have a safer product for the public.
“It’s challenging in that I constantly have to keep up my education and information about food safety. Regulations and laws update. If we have a food-borne illness outbreak, I have to investigate what caused it, how to stop it, how to prevent it in the future. No day’s the same.”
Guthrie, who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics, enrolled in the MPH program as a part-time employee at the University, first in dining services and then the campus bookstore. A former stay-at-home mom, it took her three years to complete the program.
“My sister went to Lynchburg College for her undergrad and I always loved the campus and had a lot of friends that went there,” Guthrie, who lives in nearby Forest, Virginia, said, adding that she liked the “hands-on” nature and “one-on-one support” in her classes. “I got to know my professors really well.”
It was in her classes that she developed a passion for the kind of work does now. “The administrative classes talked about leadership skills,” Guthrie said. “The environmental health class [was] where I realized I was really more passionate about that side of things. It’s a mix of public health and science.”
Guthrie has long had an interest in community health, particularly nutrition and food safety, and the MPH program amplified that. She said two of her classes, environmental health and epidemiology, directly related to her current training as a district standardization officer.
“Those classes really prepared me for my class now, especially with food-borne illness outbreaks on the epidemiology side,” she said. “It’s interesting. There’s always something new to learn. We do get complaints for food-borne illnesses every now and then. You really never know what the day’s going to bring with that.”
Guthrie started working for the health department as an environmental health assistant two years ago, while she was finishing up her degree at Lynchburg. Before she started focusing on food safety, she also worked in programs that dealt with rabies and private wells.
Asked about her career goals, Guthrie said, as far as she’s concerned she’s there. “Honestly, I’m perfectly content and happy doing what I’m doing now forever,” she said. “I love teaching, I love the educational aspect and also the challenge with learning new and improved things about food safety, but who knows?”