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Isabel Griffin

Isabel Griffin

Program: MPH
Graduation Year: 2014
Employed Full-Time
Job Title: Data Manager
Employer: Eagle Medical Services. I am a Contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ), Quarantine and Border Health Services Branch (QBHSB).

What motivated you to study public health?

My motivation for studying public health stems from my belief that we are to treat others how we would like to be treated. No one should have to drink contaminated water, be bit by an infected mosquito, or die of a preventable disease, simply because of where they live, work, or play.

Why did you choose the University of Miami for your public health degree?

At the end of college, I traveled to Coffee Bay, South Africa as part of a medical team that set up a temporary clinic to provide HIV/STD, TB, and malaria screening and treatment to over 3,000 men, women, and children. After returning from South Africa, I moved to Miami to begin my MPH studies where I was shocked to discover the same poverty and disease. I chose UM for my MPH because Miami ranked (and continues to rank) number one in new HIV infections in the United States every year. Prior to moving to Miami, I thought infectious diseases and poverty were primarily found halfway around the world, only to learn that they exist in our backyard.

Describe your career path:

While completing my MPH, I interned with the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program where I conducted a study on sources of lead affecting children in Miami-Dade County. Upon completion of my internship, I was offered a position as a Bioterrorism Epidemiologist and several months later, I transitioned to a position as an Outbreak Epidemiologist. In 2016, I investigated Zika virus transmission in the heart of Miami-Dade County—identifying areas most at-risk to pregnant women. This outbreak provided an opportunity to use my many years of public health education and my fervor for designing research studies to better understand this emerging infectious disease. These investigations and research projects have changed the way we interpret Zika virus test results and provided clinicians with a clearer understanding of HIV and Zika virus co-infections and the clinical presentation of pediatric Zika virus infections. After five years of investigating outbreaks and conducting research on emerging infectious diseases ranging from Zika virus to non-tuberculous Mycobacterium, I was presented the opportunity to work as a contractor for Eagle Medical Services within the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this position, I serve as a data manager for the Quarantine Activity Reporting System (QARS)—a reporting system which captures data on everything from ill cruise ship passengers, deaths on planes, problematic importations (such as unidentifiable bush meat or dogs without rabies certificates), and even shipments of life-saving malaria drugs to hospitals. The database captures a broad spectrum of data used to support DGMQ’s mission of preventing the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases into the United States.

How did you obtain your current position?

A few months ago, while working on my PhD at Florida International University, my dissertation advisor asked me if I would be interested in a “surveillance” contractor position with CDC. I applied for the position knowing that it was with the Quarantine and Border Health Services Branch, which I had worked with in the past while monitoring travelers from West Africa during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak. During my interview, I got to share my passion for infectious diseases and learned that the contractor position would be less fieldwork and more data. As a researcher and epidemiologist, I knew the importance of having good data and having the tools to utilize it. To me, this position was a unique opportunity to learn new data skills—which, in the last four months, has resulted in learning three programming languages—and supporting DGMQ’s public health efforts on a global scale.

How did your master's degree prepare you for your current position?

My MPH was the first of many stepping stones to my career in public health. A significant part of UM’s MPH program is completing a capstone project and field experience. If not for UM’s career counselor, Megan Garber, I would not have known about the internship at the health department, where I completed my field experience, which landed me my first job in public health and ultimately, led me to where I am today.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Surprisingly, the coding. I primarily used SAS at the health department and at FIU for my dissertation, but DGMQ databases rely on SQL to pull data. QBHSB also utilizes Rstudio to create Shiny apps and Power BI to visualize data in real-time, but both of these require coding skills (R and DAX). I frequently joke with my colleagues that I feel as though I have been dropped off for summer camp at Google.

What are your long-term career plans/goals?

In a TedxFIU talk by Dr. Aileen Marty about her response to the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, she said, “If you have the skills, the training, and the experience…you better step up.” My future career goals include doing good work that helps others always in the mindset of being ready to respond when the next epidemic emerges.

What advice do you have for someone interested in your career path?

Say yes! Volunteer to help with an outbreak investigation or research study you find interesting or get involved with a local organization whose mission drives you through volunteer work or a more structured internship. My career path has emerged from being in the right place at the right time and being eager (and equipped with the right skills) to jump in. At the end of the day, just keep pursuing what you’re passionate about and you will end up where you should be.