Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Executive MPH (EMPH) Program
Thesis Advisor, Applied Epidemiology Track, EMPH Program
“...having an epidemiology degree...You learn a lot about how we can systematically study questions about health and what affects health at a population level.”
Jeb Jones didn’t always know he wanted to work in public health. A few years after receiving his bachelor's degree in psychology from Georgia Tech, he began a doctoral program at the University of Florida with the hopes of studying substance abuse and substance use disorders through the lens of psychology.
However, as he became immersed in his program and started doing the type of work he thought he wanted to do, there was a disconnect. He was studying substance use behaviors in rats, but it felt too far removed from the actual impact he hoped to make on humans. A friend he admired had graduated from Rollins with an MPH in epidemiology, and, as he learned more about the field and the program, it sounded a lot like the type of work he hoped to do. So, after receiving his master’s in psychology, he enrolled at Rollins.
“Right before I started my MPH program, I was accepted into a summer internship at CDC in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention and that began my research career in the epidemiology of HIV, primarily among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States,” he says.
During the first week of Jones’ MPH program, he had a life-changing moment through an encounter with a renowned HIV researcher. “I went against character and walked right into Dr. Patrick Sullivan’s office and introduced myself,” he recalls. “He became my primary mentor. He mentored my thesis and my doctorate.”
Jones works alongside Sullivan now within Rollins’ Programs, Research & Innovation in Sexual Minority Health (PRISM) research group, which oversees numerous grants, projects, and studies related to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Much of Jones’ research focuses on HIV prevention among MSM in the United States, particularly as it relates to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake and usage patterns. Many of his research projects utilize online-based research and mobile app-based research to measure behavior and PrEP uptake among those he hopes to serve. One such app he’s currently testing, HealthMindr, functions as essentially an HIV prevention portal for MSM.
“It’s everything you need. It’s information about HIV, it’s information about STIs. Participants in our research studies have the ability to order condoms and HIV and STI test kits that are shipped to their homes,” he says.
The app also features a locator function to help users find local providers for HIV and STI testing and for PrEP medication. “The primary outcome of interest in this study is PrEP uptake.” PrEP, when taken daily, can significantly reduce the odds of HIV exposure. Despite its high success rates, the drug hasn’t received widespread adoption, which could be caused by several factors, including stigma, misinformation, and limited awareness of the drug and its effectiveness.
Jones is doing his part to help increase uptake among those most at risk—of which MSM is a large group. He is currently enrolling PrEP-using MSM for a pilot study and is monitoring them for four months to see what their adherence looks like to help him better tailor apps and to inform studies in the future.
Outside of his PrEP-related work, Jones teaches courses in the Department of Epidemiology and the EMPH program. As he teaches epidemiology classes to students in both programs, he sees an opportunity to open doors to others seeking a meaningful career path.
“There are a ton of additional opportunities that come along with having an epidemiology degree,” he says. “It’s a very versatile degree. You learn a lot about how we can systematically study questions about health and what affects health at a population level. You also learn a lot of really important skills that are applicable to a wide array of positions within public health, as well as to several outside of the field.”