Catching Up With Fernando Careaga '12

Fernando Careaga ‘12 is making a difference! In just two years at the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), he has received the following:
  • Public Health Hero presented by Dr. Cara Christ for my efforts in the COVID-19 Response 
  • Employee of the Quarter presented by Don Harrington (Interim Director) & Carla Berg (Deputy Director) for his efforts on multiple public health emergencies
Fernando was the Emergency Preparedness Exercise Coordinator for the Bureau of Public Health Emergency Preparedness before recently being promoted to Partner Integration Section Chief. He now manages a team of five direct reports. We asked Fernando some questions about his career path and time as a Lancer:

1. Did you always know you wanted to work in Public Health/Emergency Management? 
After graduating from Salpointe, I received a scholarship to play baseball and golf at Pacific University. During my freshman year I decided to major in Journalism and Broadcasting. After a year of taking journalism classes and a summer internship at KVOA News 4, I realized that I enjoyed writing but I was hungry for more. In Fall of 2013 I spoke to my advisor and told him I was interested in majoring in Pre-Med. He advised me to take an Intro to Public Health course before completely switching to Pre-Med. I took Intro to Public Health and absolutely loved it. The reason I loved it so much was because public health looks at improving the overall mental health, physical health and social well-being of a whole community. The volunteer work and internships I did throughout my time at Pacific were all Public Health related and I fell more in love with the belief that the work I was doing was truly making an impact in people's lives. I focused my senior capstone project on writing up a program proposal that would reduce childhood obesity rates among the latino community in Washington County by 5% yearly. I title my research project , “Ninos Primero” which is Spanish for “Kids First”. The presentation was such a huge success that I received recognition and was offered an opportunity to work for the local health department to do further research on my program proposal. I knew at that moment that this would be the start of a new chapter. 

2. What does a day look like for you at work? 
When it comes to the fields of Public Health and Emergency Management there is never a dull moment. Everyday is an opportunity to prepare for that next public health disaster or respond to an emergency. From working to minimize the spread of infectious diseases to responding to resource requests from our partners up north during wildfire season to preparing for the next public health emergency, there is a lot to do that makes my days both challenging yet exciting. I plan and design the evaluation and report of public health emergency preparedness training/drills and exercises with statewide partners. I also plan, facilitate, coordinate and speak at statewide emergency preparedness drills, exercises, workshops and conferences with partners; federal (FBI, FEMA, CDC), state (State Departments), tribal (22 AZ Tribes), county (15 AZ Counties), hospital (124 Hospitals) and local municipalities to ensure partner integration and collaboration for any future public health emergencies. At these events we discuss hypothetical public health disaster scenarios that could potentially happen in Arizona and discuss ways that each partner would respond and what they would need from other agencies to be better prepared for future emergencies. In addition to these tasks, I assist with current public health emergencies as they arise in multiple capacities. Over the past 4 years I have been involved in responding to: COVID-19, Dengue, Monkeypox, Ebola, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Infant Formula Shortage, Statewide Wildfires and Statewide Flooding to name a few. 

3. What is rewarding and frustrating about working in this field? How do you work around any struggles? 
The Arizona Department of Health Services strives to promote "Health and Wellness for All Arizonans” in a variety of ways. Our bureau focuses on not just promoting health and wellness for all arizonans, but promoting safety and preparedness for any future public health emergency. It is rewarding knowing that the events we conduct help improve emergency preparedness plans to ensure the safety of all Arizonans when disaster strikes. The unknown can be frustrating, which is why we are constantly hosting events with all partners to ensure that all plans and processes are sound and we are prepared for the unknown.

4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps? 
Join a field that you are passionate about, because you don’t want to be in a field where you go through the motions just for that paycheck. If you aren’t sure what avenue or career path you want to go in, explore all your options and resources that are available to you. There is no blueprint to life or book you can check out that tells you what your next move should be. The best thing you can do out of high school or college is to find something that you are passionate about and good at and find a job that you think will be the best fit for you. If it doesn’t pan out for a year or so then look for other opportunities. 

5. How has Salpointe impacted your life and career? 
From St. Thomas Preschool to Immaculate Heart School to Salpointe, the teachings of the Catholic faith have always been at my core and have shaped the person I currently am and will continue to become. Salpointe gave me the tools and resources I needed to be successful, not just at Pacific, but in life as well. Salpointe also provided me the opportunity to strengthen my faith, especially through my experience during Kairos 219. Salpointe taught me how to achieve success not just in the classroom but on the diamond as well. Salpointe pushes its students to reach their fullest potential by having teachers push their students to do more than they themselves know are capable of. The Carmelite priests, faculty, staff and coaches created more than just a Catholic high school experience they created a sense of family. It was a great privilege to be a part of such a big family that gives you so much opportunity to grow and develop your skills. 

6. What was your favorite part of being a Lancer? 
My favorite part of Salpointe was being a member of the Salpointe family. I looked forward to coming to school everyday not only to be with my friends, but to learn how to be successful in school and better my craft at baseball for the next level. Being a student-athlete was an honor. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned the importance of time management, discipline and patience. I would not be where I am today without the guidance of my teachers, staff, Kay Sullivan, Father John O’Malley, Coach Preble, Carla Garrett, Acuna, Coffey and Pops to name a few. 

7. Salpointe recently started a Wellness program. What does Wellness mean to you? 
I think it is great that Salpointe has developed a Wellness Program. Wellness to me means the overall well-being of an individual. I think it’s important to have check-ins not just only with faculty and staff but students as well. Being open and vulnerable about how one is doing not just physically but spiritually and mentally is important. When life gets hectic, it's important to take a minute to breathe and centralize our body and mind. Doing breathing exercises, writing feelings down, going for a walk, listening to music and cooking are great ways to center oneself. 

8. Any other comments? 
This is a quote that I try to live by: “Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new, as long as you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, by trying new things and taking chances. Never give up even if you fail. For the moment you get comfortable with the uncomfortable, that is when you will be able to reach your fullest potential!”


Salpointe Catholic High School

1545 E. Copper St.,
Tucson, AZ 85719
(520) 327-6581
Attendance: (520) 327-1990
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