2015-08-21 / Neighbors

Atlanta bound as a CDC detective

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Kate Russell will work in the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic intelligence officer. (Courtesy photo) Kate Russell will work in the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic intelligence officer. (Courtesy photo) Kate Russell, a 2002 graduate of Scarborough High School, will always consider Scarborough home, but for the next two years she will be living in Atlanta working as a Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year the CDC chooses 80 medical professionals, doctors, veterinarians or PhD scientists from across the country to take part in the program. The officers, also known as CDC’s disease detectives, serve as first responders to public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

According to the CDC EIS website, “for more than 60 years, EIS officers have stepped up at a moment’s notice to investigate many different types of health threats. EIS officers have had significant impact in improving the public’s health domestically and internationally.” Officers are assigned to work in areas of infectious and non-infectious disease, global health, chronic disease, injury prevention and environmental or occupational health.

Russell first learned about the opportunity while she was a student at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, through the chairman of the pediatrics department, who had served as an EIS officer in the 1970s.

“I knew I was interested in public health even before medical school. I heard about this particular program and thought it was a good way to help the public,” said Russell, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2012.

Russell took advantage of the opportunity and applied for the position during her third year of residency in pediatrics in North Carolina. She interviewed at the CDC headquarters and found out she had been chosen in spring 2014.

“It was one of the most exciting things to get that phone call telling me I was part of the program,” Russell said.

Russell, who moved to Scarborough from South Portland when she was 6, learned to love science from a young age and dreamed of one day following in the footsteps of her father, Benjamin Russell, a general surgeon in Portland, and make a career in medicine.

“He loves medicine. He loves what he does and loves working with patients. I decided that’s what I wanted to do as well,” she said.

After graduating from Bates College in 2006, Russell spent a short time doing research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She quickly realized being a research scientist wasn’t for her, but stayed in Boston to earn a master’s degree in public health from Boston University in 2008. She spent her pediatrics residency at the Duke University Hospital in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Although Russell didn’t take any public health courses in Scarborough, she did see public health firsthand as a student at Scarborough High School.

While in high school, Russell underwent emergency medical technician training as a student rescue member of the Scarborough Public Safety Department. Russell and the other student rescue responders were provided a pager and left school to respond to calls in the community when needed.

“It wasn’t a course, but it definitely was something that led me to public health. It was a pretty unique opportunity,” Russell said.

Russell started as an EIS officer in July and, after a month-long training, was recently assigned to the CDC’s influenza division, where she will spend the next two years studying influenza in Atlanta, responding to and investigating outbreaks as they occur. She also has plans to travel to West Africa to help curtail Ebola.

“It is a great program,” Russell said of CDC EIS. “It’s really exciting.”

After her time as an EIS officer wraps up in 2017, Russell said she would like to continue in the public health field by finding work at the CDC or Maine Department of Health.

“Eventually I would like to get back to Maine, but it seems like I keep moving farther south,” Russell said.

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