Former Emerging Infectious Disease Training Fellow Shares: Why Public Health

By Elizabeth Perez, APHL/CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Advanced Laboratory Training Fellow, Class 13

The field of public health is not for the faint of heart. Many of us find ourselves having to make due with limited resources, work extended hours with short notice, and have to always be prepared for that phone call that always happens to come on a Friday afternoon. So why would anyone want to choose to go into public health?

The answer is that the individuals who stick around despite the conditions I just mentioned are always highly motivated individuals committed to excellence.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? After working side-by-side with public health laboratorians during my Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Training Fellowship in 2007, I knew public health was the right career path for me.

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After a nerve-wracking process of applying and interviewing along with other outstanding candidates I was absolutely certain that I would not be chosen, so you can imagine how surprised and excited I was to learn that I was selected to join APHL’s  thirteenth class of EID fellows. Moving from New York City to Atlanta to work at my host lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention marked the beginning of an amazing year as an EID fellow.

The project I conducted during my fellowship involved the use of an engineered bacteriophage to disrupt biofilms that were formed by E. coli on urinary catheters. This project was the perfect match for me because it catered to my interests in microbiology and medicine. During my fellowship I learned how to grow bacterial biofilms and bacteriophage, worked with flow model systems and got my hands on all sorts of medical devices. I had the best and most encouraging mentor anyone could ask for, Dr. Rodney Donlan, whose extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for biofilms was inspiring. I felt very fortunate to work under the guidance of such an exceptional scientist and soon found that having a terrific mentor was something I had in common with the other fellows.

In addition to working on an exciting project, I was also part of a cohort of other EID fellows who were superb individuals with similar interests. That year some of us traveled together to Boston for the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting, and got together again at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases thanks to funding from APHL.

Looking back at the extraordinary opportunity that was afforded to me by APHL, I can say with absolute certainty that my experience as an EID fellow was the turning point that set me on this trajectory toward public health. Today I am a graduate student that is studying emerging infectious diseases and sometimes find myself wondering where I would be had it not been for APHL. I always come to the same conclusion: that it is best not to think of a life that is not invigorated by a discipline that is both challenging and fulfilling.

(The photo above was taken during the Fifth Decennial International Conference on Healthcare-Associated Infections, which was held in Atlanta during March 18-22, 2010. I worked up the courage to introduce myself to Dr. Julie Gerberding, former CDC director, at a plenary session where she was an invited speaker. Dr. Gerberding was very gracious while I was starstruck.)

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