Mike Tobias

MPH program, Biostatistics

Clinical trial for improving infant mortality rates in Zambia


Describe the work you’re doing for your practicum.

As an intern with the Center for Global Health & Development, I’m working at the ZAmCat project. It is a clinical trial comparing mortality rates in infants where chlorhexidine has been applied to the umbilical stump versus the standard practice of keeping the stump dry. The trial will involve about 43,000 women all over the Southern Province of Zambia.

What are the greatest challenges and successes you’ve had so far?

So far, the biggest challenge has been trying to contribute to making the process of handling thousands of paper forms more efficient. The trial is still in its early stages, so any contribution now will hopefully have an ongoing effect.

What skills have you been able to put to use?

I have been building Access databases for many years.

What experience have you been able to gain?

On the technical side, I am becoming familiar with the TeleForm system. In addition, I get to see and take part in a large clinical trial in process. The number of issues that need to be worked out on an ongoing basis is staggering. As I had begun to learn in a previous (much smaller) trial, real life is much messier and more challenging than a classroom discussion will ever reveal.

What have you found to be helpful in terms of making the most of your practicum experience?

Dive in head first.

What tips can you offer to practicum students in terms of setting the stage for a successful practicum?

If you are passionate about something, find a practicum that gives you real life experience in that area.

How did you find your practicum placement?

I was walking down the hall in the Crosstown building to turn in a SAS homework assignment, and saw a sign that said “Get paid to go to Africa.” I did remember later to turn in my homework.

In what ways do you think your practicum will inform the next steps in your public health career?

At SPH my concentration is Biostatistics. Perhaps I will be inspired to add more of an global health flavor to the courses I take. My greatest wish is that this will help me find a way to combine my technical skills and training with a desire to travel and be useful to people in far-off lands. I spent more than 2 years in Addis Ababa many years ago. Ever since, I have wanted to return to Africa. I have not been disappointed. Times have changed, and Zambia is not Ethiopia. But there is something different about Africa that suits me very well. That is still true.