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June 14, 2017

The Informatics Academy welcomes Senior Training Consultant

The Informatics Academy is pleased to welcome Michelle Bonkosky, MS, on board as Senior Training Consultant. Michelle has ten years’ experience in public health education, microbiology and environmental health in the public and private sectors.

When asked about her professional journey, Michelle emphasizes the friendships and relationships she has fostered over the past decade. A self-professed “globe-trotter,” she has traveled from her hometown of Humacao, Puerto Rico, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and then to several Latin American countries to implement online and face-to-face training sessions for public health professionals.

Michelle offers trainees personalized attention and how-to discussions that address their specific needs. The working relationship is about working together to achieve a common goal and finding the best way to achieve that goal. “Public health professionals are partnering with people, serving the community and the individual, for the greater good,” Michelle says. “It helps to understand and get to know the people you work with so you can serve the greater good together.”

“Public health professionals are partnering with people, serving the community and the individual, for the greater good.”

- Michelle Bonkosky

Michelle started her career as a Hispanic Serving Health Profession Schools research fellow working in CDC laboratories. Her first experience helping people in the field came when she worked for CDC in a contractor capacity as a laboratory project manager identifying pertussis cases in Latin America. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is preventable with vaccinations and treatable with antibiotics.

However, pertussis bacteria present a challenge for lab teams because they grow so slowly. It can take 10 days for the bacteria colony to appear on a culture plate for diagnosis, and infants especially need prompt treatment. Michelle trained lab workers in Mexico, Argentina and Panama to use a faster diagnostic test to identify pertussis cases so that sick people could receive care more quickly.

This work made a deep impression on Michelle. She saw and heard an infant with pertussis struggling to breathe, and she realized how the disease affects families on a personal level. Training teams to use a faster pertussis diagnostic was one of her favorite projects, because she could use her knowledge of Spanish and science to help save lives.

Michelle kept these experiences in mind as she began a corporate training position with Abbott Molecular Laboratories. In this role, she traveled to 10 states in Brazil to meet with ministries of health and to train lab worker and colleagues in the use of Abbott diagnostic tests. The customer service role gave her opportunities to build rapport with ministries of health, as Michelle was the only scientist in the trainings who also had some experience in public health. “I could ‘translate’ between the scientific perspective and the public health perspective,” Michelle shares. She helped make sure everyone felt heard and understood.

Michelle realized she loved training public health professionals, so she returned to CDC contractor work as an instructional designer for laboratory technicians working in molecular biology. Her trainings cultivated employee skills for more than 150 laboratories.

Around this time, Michelle began exploring the PHII and Informatics Academy websites to learn more about informatics. As she perused the Academy website, she discovered PHII helps public health professionals use information to make better decisions. This mission resonated with Michelle immediately. “Being informed empowers public health professionals to predict and prevent unfortunate things, and empowers people to make decisions about their health,” she says. “Empowering people is one of the goals of public health.”

Now a member of the PHII team, Michelle is working with colleagues to develop a training that will help public health professionals and health care providers in Latin America identify cases of congenital Zika syndrome and microcephaly. She is also developing online trainings about the virus to share with field epidemiologists who wish to learn more.

In her spare time, Michelle loves salsa dancing, hiking, going on road trips and exploring local greenspaces. Recently she began interpreting for the Latin American Association. It gives her a lot of joy to give back to her community.

Michelle also participates in office ping-pong games on Tuesday evenings. At one time she played ping-pong for her school team, and she enjoys getting back into the game with her colleagues. “All the players bring their skills to the table,” she reports. ”It’s so much fun!”

Ginia Taylor, MA

Communications Coordinator