In August 2010, Soo-Jeong Lee joined the UCSF School of Nursing faculty as an assistant professor with the Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing (OEHN) Program.
Lee's interest in occupational health began while a nursing undergraduate at Seoul National University in Korea. She joined a student study club for occupational health, and soon she was in the field visiting nuclear power plants and coal mines to understand the health problems of workers. Successfully juggling her extracurricular interests with the demands of her studies, she graduated Magna Cum Laude witSh a Bachelors of Science in Nursing in 1993.
After graduation, Lee chose to focus on clinical nursing. She worked in the medical and intensive care units at Seoul National University Hospital. "As a young woman, the hospital setting was a place with drama – a place to save lives and cure people," said Lee. "After entering nursing, I learned that hospitals are also a workplace that can affect the health and safety of workers."
As a clinical nurse, she cared for many terminally ill patients. "This is where I learned the importance of prevention. It's the reason I wanted to go back to school to study." She earned her Industrial Hygienist Certification in Korea in 1994 and her MS in nursing in 1999. Then, motivated by her interest in occupational health, she set her sights on UCSF's OEHN Program, where she completed her Adult Nurse Practitioner training and received her PhD in 2007.
"As a young woman, the hospital setting was a place with drama – a place to save lives and cure people. After entering nursing, I learned that hospitals are also a workplace that can affect the health and safety of workers." Soo-Jeong Lee
Lee received no less than 16 scholarships and awards while a doctoral student, including the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) Medique New Investigator Award for her dissertation. Her study of safe patient-handling practices among 400 critical care nurses was published in the September 2010 issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Before joining UCSF, Lee worked for six months at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) where she analyzed occupational health surveillance data before receiving a post-doctoral fellowship from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service, a training program for public health and applied epidemiology.
The CDC assigned her to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) because of her interest in occupational health. "My major project was to analyze pesticide illness surveillance data and make recommendations for prevention," said Lee. Her work resulted in the first multistate report on the magnitude and characteristics of acute antimicrobial pesticide illness among workers in healthcare facilities. First published in May 2010 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, it also appeared in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Lee enjoyed her time at NIOSH and said it was a hard decision to leave, but the faculty position at UCSF was a natural fit and an excellent opportunity for her to pursue her goal of becoming a leading nurse researcher in the field of occupational health.
Building on previous collaborations, she is currently working on a CDC sponsored project with CDPH that will evaluate a reporting measure of influenza vaccinations among healthcare personnel. She is also developing a proposal to pursue intramural funding for an investigation into occupational exposures and safe work behaviors among cleaning workers in healthcare settings.
In the future, Lee hopes to offer a course in occupational health nursing and research methodology once she has established her research agenda.
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