Victor Soupene, a PhD candidate in the University of Iowa Department of Epidemiology, was empowered by his family’s experiences to pursue a career in epidemiology focusing on improving the health of workers.
“Work in my family was always an important point of pride, but unfortunately, injuries were common,” he said. “I think back to my grandpa who was a farmer, my mom who works in dietary services at a hospital, and my dad who is a sheet metal worker and all the injuries they experienced at work over the years and how it impacted their lives.”
Last year, Soupene was one of several students participating in the UI Injury Prevention Research Center’s (UI IRPC) Experiential Learning Program for PhD students, which provides year-long mentorship on a violence-related research project ending in a published manuscript. Soupene recently published his research in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on what puts installation, repair and maintenance (IMR) workers in the U.S. at risk for suicides. IMR workers have the second highest suicide rate among all occupational groups.
Here, Soupene talks about his occupational suicide research, his summer internship with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the CDC, and other opportunities with the UI IPRC.
Q & A: Tell me about your occupational suicide research?
Suicide, like other adverse health outcomes, is very complex. Because occupation is a social determinant of health, some occupations that have less educational requirements and are more physically demanding – like construction, maintenance, or agriculture – generally put workers at higher risk for suicide. Understanding more about why certain occupations are at higher risk is the underlying question of my dissertation work. My dissertation work focuses on the firearm-related suicides among occupations in rural America.
Q & A: What opportunities with the UI IPRC have you found valuable?
The UI IPRC has provided me a variety of opportunities ranging from research projects to presenting my work. One of my favorite experiences was attending the Society for the Advancement of Injury and Violence Prevention (SAVIR) conference in Denver where I got to present my research and connect with students from other institutions.
I also have worked on several research projects such examining suicide among installation, maintenance, and repair workers and workplace violence experienced by young workers. In addition, I got connected to the Safe States Alliance where I am chair of the student and early professionals special interest group. None of these experiences would have happened without support from the UI IPRC.
Q & A: What was one of the highlights of interning with the CDC?
My CDC internship entailed assessing new data visualization tools related to health equity and infographics through usability testing for the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, know as WISQARS. We were able to identify different aspects of the new modules that were not easy to use or interpret and provide suggestions to the WISQARS developers to improve these tools. I learned a lot about injury surveillance and the process of developing web applications. I also made new professional connections with CDC staff and gained experience in working in the government sector of public health.
Q & A: What advice do you have for new students at the College of Public Health?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be open to new experiences. When I first started at the College of Public Health, I did not come in intending to study suicide by occupation or workplace violence. However, as I got further in my education and learned about these topics, I realized that I had more interests in public health than I originally recognized.
Published August 21, 2023
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