As a child, Gaby Combs, CPH ’19, ’20 was fascinated with diseases. In grade school she read books about yellow fever, and in high school, she did an independent study about Ebola in West Africa. She assumed these interests would lead to a career in nursing, but a class she took during her first semester at Temple altered her trajectory.
A scientific discovery
That class, Public Health: The Way We Live, Work and Play, showed her a different path forward and introduced her to a field she hadn’t realized even existed: epidemiology.
“After midterms, I called my mom and said, ‘I’m not going to be a nurse anymore, I’m going to be an epidemiologist!’” she remembered.
Flourishing in the field
Real world experience cemented Combs’ passion for public health. Starting in high school and throughout her undergraduate studies, she worked at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania doing clinical research, a skill she’d call upon later in her coursework.
In 2017, during her third year at Temple, she secured a spot in Philadelphia’s highly competitive Mayor’s Internship Program. She was placed in the medical examiner’s office as part of the fatality review program.
“That exposure had a lasting impact on me,” she said. “I came to believe that any fatality, especially those of children, should be preventable.”
Theory into practice
In 2019, not long after Combs began Temple’s master of public health program, the world was thrust into the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to juggling classes and her thesis research, Combs jumped in to help. She co-led investigations into university coronavirus outbreaks, performed contact tracing for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), and became a vaccine manager for numerous community vaccination clinics across the city of Philadelphia.
“It was such a hectic time, I didn’t think I was going to finish my master’s,” she said. “But I managed to finish in the summer of 2020, and I’m grateful to the Temple professors who helped me stick it out.”
Today Combs continues to work with the PDPH and in 2021 started a position as a Vaccines for Children Assistant Coordinator. Part of a federal entitlement program, the job helps to provide scheduled vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children and entails numerous logistical components, like coordinating vaccination clinics and educating providers about proper vaccine storage.
Combs credits her experiences studying at Temple and living in Philadelphia for her ability to navigate the complexities of the position.
“When I work with district health centers in different communities, I’m cognizant of the fact I’m coming into someone’s neighborhood,” said Combs. “At Temple I learned cultural competencies that allow me to interact effectively with diverse groups.”