by Julia M. Plevin '09
"The first time, Dartmouth chose me," Liza Veto '93 says when asked why she chose Dartmouth. She had thought she wanted to go to another Ivy League school but Admissions had different plans for her. "I chose it when I went back to work at Dartmouth," Veto clarifies.
Veto, a self-proclaimed book nerd, was an English major. She knew that Dartmouth had a great English Department and she loved to read, write, and talk about books. Upon graduating, she considered getting a PhD in English but wanted to be absolutely sure before investing the time and money in a PhD program. While still deciding, Veto participated in a summer publishing program at Radcliffe. She enjoyed the program and decided to work at Walker and Company, a small family-owned book publisher in New York City. By working at a small house, she was able to see a bit of all the parts of publishing instead of being compartmentalized.
While testing out the publishing waters, Veto received a call completely out of the blue from the woman who was running the sexual abuse program at Dartmouth. The woman said that she was leaving and looking for a new Acting Director to take her place. Veto was taken aback. She had been very involved in sexual assault programs while at Dartmouth and was a co-founder of Sexual Assault Peer Advisors (SAPA), but she had always seen her interest in health as extracurricular and not a career.
Veto thought about this decision very carefully. She was unsure about a career in publishing because she did not like to think about books as products. Moreover, she felt that she had unfinished work at Dartmouth. Taking a "complete leap of I'm-not-sure-what-I'm-doing-but-it-feels-right," Veto returned to Dartmouth to work at Dick's House as the Coordinator for the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program. Her leap to try a new career path was successful and Veto became sold that she wanted to pursue health. She knew she wanted to help people.
More than helping people who were victims of sexual abuse, Veto wanted to work on a larger scale because she did not want people to get sexually assaulted in the first place. She understood the importance of direct service work but found that she was more energized by social work at the policy level. Veto chose to go to graduate school in social work at Washington University in St. Louis.
At the time, she knew a lot of people who worked in human services but no one with a Master's degree in public health or policy. With her current job as a public health analyst for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), she thinks a Master's in public health or policy would have been useful, but she does not regret her decision to go to graduate school for social work. She was not sure what direction to head after graduate school but applied on a whim and was accepted to the Presidential Management Fellows Program. The program was started by President Carter in 1976 in order to recruit students from graduate school into the federal government. Veto recommends that Dartmouth students look into this "fast track program" . It was through this program that she ended up at the CDC.
While Veto has worked for the government for the past ten and a half years, her work has been anything but dull and slow-paced. She has been part of many emergency response teams that dealt with such emergencies as SARS, anthrax, and Hurricane Katrina. For the SARS outbreak, she was the liaison to the Department of Education and helped set up guidelines for college health services about SARS. Veto especially enjoys the positions that pop up during emergency crises because there is a lot of "problem-solving and figuring it out along the way." The work is exhausting but so important. As Veto reflects on the time she worked on the anthrax emergency team, making sure people stayed healthy, "I knew why I was going to work everyday."
With the exception of emergency response situations, her day-to-day work is mostly spent in an office in Washington, DC. Veto is an indefatigable supporter for public service at every level and thinks that the government does have a unique and important role in public health. She is happy working for the government as long as her work is challenging and engaging. In the future, she wants to continue to make a difference on health issues, whether that is inside or outside of the government.
As Veto has experienced Dartmouth from both the student and employee perspective and has also served as a mentor for undergraduate students at Dartmouth preparing for their post-graduate life, she has indispensable career advice to offer.
First, she strongly recommends against going straight from college to graduate school and notes that if she had done that she would have gotten a PhD in English and completely missed her calling in public health. Also, she notes that work experience makes the student a better applicant both for graduate school and jobs after graduate school.
Next, as a public health analyst, she offers practical advice. Veto says, "Yes, you do need health insurance." It is important to know when the employer covers health insurance and to get temporary health insurance in the meantime. She advocates that this is not an expense to be skimping on because it is important to get the preventive services and health care when needed. Also, having health care avoids the problem of being buried in health-related debt.
For students interested in public health, Veto advises students to sample many different venues, from government to nonprofits, and see what "feels right." She also suggests getting involved with public health programs in the Upper Valley like Women's Information Service (WISE), and taking advantage of opportunities that Dartmouth offers such as the DARDAR health program in Tanzania. Since the world of public health is intrinsically related to policy and government, it is also helpful to be involved with events and programs at Rocky. Veto wishes she had taken advantage of resources at the Rockefeller Center while she was a student. Now she works closely with Rocky interns and has participated in a civic skills class with Rockefeller interns in Washington, DC.
In general, she stresses that there is no one path to get anywhere and that all career experiences are valuable. Veto finds her job satisfying because she feels that she is making people healthier and safer but concedes "even people who love their jobs have some boring days at work." After all, no one can solve health emergencies every day of the week.
Last Updated: 6/21/12