Many ID specialists choose to work for public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) near Washington, DC. State and local health departments also employ ID specialists such as Dr. Gail Bolan, Chief of the STD Control Branch of the California DHS.
Director, Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention Program Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Like many medical students, Gail Bolan, MD, expected to follow a traditional career path. A future in public health wasn’t something that medical schools hyped, and she never even considered the notion until a program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened her eyes. “I always thought I was going to do laboratory research and follow a more traditional academic career,” she says. “Then someone encouraged me to do the CDC medical epidemiology training program called EIS [Epidemic Intelligence Service]. It completely changed my career path. I decided that public health was going to be what I would spend my life doing.”
Dr. Bolan became intrigued by the ID field while earning her medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School. “I was captured by the challenge of acute microbial threats,” she recalls. She went on to complete her internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia Hospital and split her ID fellowship between two coasts: Tufts New England Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center. But the two years she spent in EIS—CDC’s unique postgraduate program of service and on-the-job training for health professionals interested in the practice of epidemiology—was the most influential part of her training.
“The EIS program showed me the excitement and the potential of what public health really has to offer in terms of a career,” says Dr. Bolan, who conducted epidemiologic investigations, research, and public health surveillance in the program’s Respiratory and Special Pathogens Branch. “You have the opportunity to look at things on a population-based level, as opposed to either the individual microbe level in a laboratory or the individual patient level in clinical practice. To me, it’s especially rewarding to make structural interventions that actually improve the health of entire populations, not just individual patients. It’s a challenging effort to achieve that, but when it happens, it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Dr. Bolan enjoys the diverse responsibilities of her job, which include providing training and technical assistance, guiding the development of policy, and overseeing translational research activities. She also touts the flexible nature of her career choice. “I always tell students that there’s a huge opportunity in public health. It’s a great career, especially if you’re interested in balancing work and family. But it also gives you opportunity to travel the world. It really opens many, many doors that I didn’t realize were there when I was a medical student.”
Public Health Online.org is an in-depth guidebook for anyone seeking detailed information and data on careers in public health.
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Choosing a subspecialty is the most important career decision for a medical resident. If you are looking for intellectual challenge, job satisfaction, and a wide range of career options, consider infectious diseases, a rewarding specialty with a historic place in medicine.
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