My Path To Public Health Preparedness and Response

Sep 05 2012 :: Published in Public Health Preparedness & Response

By Christopher Chadwick, MS, Senior Specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response, APHL

This month is National Preparedness Month.  Follow APHL on our blog and our other social media networks for preparedness information and discussions all month!

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I’ve been at APHL for just over 90 days now.  My path to public health preparedness and response has been a long, winding one with many pit stops and turns along the way. Strict science was always my anticipated destination but I was quick to make an unexpected turn here and there when I was persuaded by whatever aspect interested me at the time.

Chris Chadwick Visits CDC

I began my science career working in a microbiology laboratory at Louisiana State University. Before my position in the microbiology laboratory, I was convinced chemistry was the only route for me, so my apathy for these microorganisms that I dealt with everyday grew almost as fast as E. coli in lactose broth (please excuse the gratuitous nerdiness). However, Becky Todd, my first mentor in the lab, and basically in science, helped steer me in the direction that would eventually become my career path. I began to grow fond of the laboratory and the vast microscopic world. As my undergraduate career came to a close, I was at a crossroad as to where I should go next. Although medical school was a driving factor for quite some time, I realized that I wished to further study infectious agents and their influence at the community level.

Realizing what public health had to offer proved to be my greatest scientific discovery.  After I made a few pit stops in vaccine policy, biosecurity and food safety, I arrived at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), a premier non-profit public health organization at the forefront of innovative technologies and policies which will help shape health outcomes in the US and globally. My work is concentrated on preparedness and response, which leverages my expertise in microbiology, chemistry, public health and policy – an excellent fit and use of my skill sets.

During my time here, my respect for the laboratories that began during my days at LSU has only grown, and I’ve made some key realizations about public health, laboratorians, and the preparedness and response field:

  1. The laboratorians we work with are extremely intelligent and well-respected in the science community as they are key responders in emerging infectious diseases, foodborne outbreaks, suspected terrorist attacks, newborn screening and environmental health issues.
  2. We all have our microbe of interest. Mine happens to be dengue if you’re wondering.
  3. We all play the ever-so-popular acronym game. Public health professionals in the greater Washington, DC area love to use as many acronyms or abbreviations in one sentence to see whom we can confuse. (Don’t act like you’ve never had that intention!)
  4. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is THE PLACE to be for public health, but you already knew that. My first trip there was one of the most exciting experiences and maybe a little emotional too (don’t tell anyone that last part). That said, all events happen locally. Strong CDC support enables state and local health departments to protect the nation.
  5. The all-hazards approach of preparedness and response fuels my curiosity to learn all I can from other areas of public health (e.g., chemical and radiological threats). Plus, I get to use the knowledge all my pit stops provided me.

As preparedness month begins and we look ahead to the next hurricane, I am reminded why I chose this path. We southerners from the coastal states are guilty of playing in the rain as a hurricane approaches, but we are always prepared — although my knee may not have been prepared for that roofing tile flung at it by Hurricane Gustav during the summer of 2008. Perhaps my career and interest in preparedness began years ago when I insisted our dorm room have a kit with the necessities, such as ramen noodles and a flashlight. (That’s all you had at one point too, right?) As I’ve traveled the path towards preparedness and response, my kit has remained intact and evolved to better prepare me for all events and not just hurricanes. These additions forced me to remove the ramen noodles from the menu though.

Find me on Twitter or send me an email.  I am happy to chat with budding scientists and/or folks with a curiosity for public health.

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