About the Program
Meet Tara Henning, PhD, who heads CDC’s Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) and passionately mentors the laboratory disease detectives. In the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL)’s Fall 2020 edition of Lab Matters, Tara talks about the innovative leadership and experiential training opportunities LLS provides lab scientists, like supporting the COVID-19 emergency response and teaming up with disease detectives in the Epidemic Intelligence Service.
CDC’s Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) was launched in 2015 to develop future public health laboratory leaders. LLS is a service-learning, multidimensional program that encompasses the competencies of applied public health laboratory research, laboratory operations and quality management, the science of biosafety, bioinformatics, advanced communications, and leadership training. The program guides fellows through ten core activities of learning (CALs) to help build skill sets in these competency areas deemed critical for success as a laboratory leader. LLS fellows hone their leadership skills and create a culture of scientific excellence in laboratory science by emphasizing high standards in areas such as laboratory quality, safety, and service to protect the public’s health, safety, and security.
LLS is closely aligned with CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) to promote interdisciplinary training, applied learning, and collaboration between laboratory scientists and epidemiologists. LLS provides opportunities for fellows to serve public health agencies and learn through field experiences and domestic or international emergency responses.
CDC’s guiding principles for laboratory work are to ensure the safety of all staff and the community. CDC prioritizes transparency as we conduct high-quality scientific research to promote health and protect people in this country and around the world.
LLS was established as one of multiple efforts to promote lab safety and quality practices and procedures across the agency. A goal of establishing LLS was to strengthen the culture of laboratory quality and safety at CDC. Since its launch, the LLS program has expanded training beyond laboratory quality management and the science of biosafety to also include program management, bioinformatics, advanced communications, and leadership.
Visit CDC’s laboratory safety website to stay informed on laboratory safety efforts.
LLS proudly joins CDC’s efforts to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce and is committed to promoting working environment that is fair and equitable for everyone. LLS furthers the agency’s reach to a broad and diverse audience in its recruitment of potential candidates. LLS program staff and its fellows seek to recruit skilled and service-oriented laboratory scientists from a wide range of research disciplines, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and geographic locations. Increasing and maintaining diversity among our LLS fellows and program staff is a priority. We value and encourage diverse and inclusive perspectives in our fellows and training. LLS recognizes racism as a public health issue and provides diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) training to fellows, supervisors, and program staff. We encourage fellows to lead or participate in public health DEIA activities.
The LLS program provides fellows with an unparalleled training experience and an opportunity to accelerate their career paths in public health. LLS serves as a pathway for training the laboratory leaders-needed for the public health workforce. With 93% of LLS graduates accepting positions in public health, the LLS program is well positioned to positively influence the diversity and inclusivity of the public health laboratory workforce and its leadership. We consider it our privileged duty to ensure LLS staff and fellows embody DEIA principles and values throughout all facets of the program, including operations, recruitment, selection, and training.
To promote DEIA, we have made organizational changes in how we recruit, select, and train our fellows. The following describes some of these changes and supporting activities.
Engagement in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Accessibility (DEIA) Councils and Initiatives: LLS staff are engaged in a variety of DEIA councils, fellowship committees, and initiatives that inform, advocate for, and provide guidance for DEIA initiatives and programmatic policies. This involvement includes participation in agency DEIA councils which advise on all elements of our Division and fellowship programs.
Recruitment: A diverse and inclusive class of LLS fellows begins with a recruitment approach infused with a DEIA mindset. We have developed partnerships that promote diversity in the pool of candidates applying to LLS. We seek to ensure that access to program information, recruitment opportunities, and application coaching resources are widely accessible. Diverse LLS classes provide opportunities for expanded perspectives and enriched peer learning, a more inclusive workplace, and ultimately a more diverse public health workforce. The LLS program has:
- Developed webinars on the LLS application and fellowship experience that were delivered in partnership with a nationally recognized recruiting platform for higher education students and alumni that could tailor outreach to historically underrepresented racial and ethnic student populations. These webinars provided broad and equitable access to program information and featured a diverse group of current fellows and alumni to foster a sense of belonging among candidates.
- Used evidence-based approaches to review recruitment and application data and determine where additional program support is needed sustain candidate pool diversity throughout the application process.
- Implemented a new program to provide soft skills and interview coaching to all applicants in hopes that a more diverse applicant pool can be retained throughout the application process.
- Provided applicants peer mentorship with current fellows and alumni to ensure equitable access to first-hand program knowledge and application advice.
- Developed partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to provide tailored outreach and recruitment, along with professional development training.
Program Operations and Fellow Support. LLS program staff prioritize DEIA principles in their day-to-day operations and support of fellows. The LLS program:
- Employs a diverse staff who provide sensitive, inclusive, and supportive supervision to fellows.
- Fosters a sense of belonging among fellows with a peer-mentoring program between first- and second-year fellows, regular informal meetings for group engagement, and focus group sessions to receive and act upon critical constructive feedback.
- Provides all fellows tailored mentoring and networking support that enhances professional development.
- Provides career planning support to all second-year fellows that ensure equitable access to interview training and job opportunities after graduation.
Selection: Since 2020, LLS continuously evaluates all application and selection processes to minimize bias, prevent discrimination, and ensure equitable access to all elements of the application and selection processes. In this area, we:
- Require unconscious bias training for anyone conducting LLS candidate interviews
- Require all staff involved in the selection process to participate in a workshop on minimizing bias and discrimination
- Use virtual interviews to make it easier for candidates across geographic locations to apply to LLS
- Adopted the use of standardized letters of reference to ensure all applicants are being rated on the same criteria
- Conduct an annual review of application review and selection processes with professionals outside the LLS program to ensure scoring and selection processes are fair and unbiased.
Training: LLS is broadly integrating health equity and DEIA principles into all elements of our training. While we overhaul our curriculum we have taken the the immediate actions:
- Expanded first-year fellows’ orientation summer course with applied learning projects that include DEIA scenarios. These applied training scenarios broaden fellows’ perspectives and increase awareness of health equity challenges in the public health laboratory workforce and among their peers.
- Added racism as a public health issue within the required LLS curriculum
- Included a health equity seminar as part of the required LLS curriculum
- Infused DEIA and health equity into the LLS leadership curriculum; related topics are a standing discussion item for professional development sessions with laboratory and other public health senior leaders.
- Require LLS laboratory host sites to specify how they will infuse their training plans with DEIA principles and health equity training.
- Require that LLS fellows and program staff use non-stigmatizing and culturally appropriate language and images when referring to people and populations