Kimberly Davis, M.P.H.’12, works on the front lines of preventing the spread of Ebola and other dangerous communicable diseases in the United States. A quarantine public health officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she is engaged in screening travelers from abroad who come through the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
That’s one of five U.S. airports that are conducting enhanced screening of individuals who come from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak. However, Davis and her colleagues are on the lookout for all red-flag illnesses.
“Our main goal is to stop the introduction of communicable diseases from abroad,” she says. “We’re also looking for measles, pandemic flus, tuberculosis and other illnesses.”
For Ebola, travelers to the Atlanta airport from the countries affected by the virus are identified by flight manifests before they step off the plane. They are separated from other passengers and screened with an infrared thermometer; if a traveler has a high fever or other potential Ebola symptoms, that person is taken to a designated hospital for further medical evaluation and possible quarantine.
As of Jan. 11, 2015, the World Health Organization reported 21,296 total cases of Ebola and 8,429 total deaths in this latest outbreak. The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976 but were limited and largely quickly controlled.
Before she joined the CDC a year ago, Davis protected public health as an agricultural specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta. Her work stimulated her longtime interest in global health and diverse populations and sparked her decision to pursue a master’s degree in public health. DMU’s program is accredited by the independent Council on Education for Public Health and is one of a few M.P.H. programs that students can complete entirely online.
“Because of that, I was able to work full-time and make many connections which I believe landed me with my dream employer, the CDC,” she says.
Before that, Davis went to Nepal, via DMU’s global health program, for the internship required for the degree. In 2011, she and another M.P.H. student, Lindley Sharp, joined Yogesh Shah, M.D., M.P.H.’14, associate dean of global health, on a trip he had organized through Save the Children, a nonprofit organization that supports health, education, protection and disaster relief to help children in 120 countries. The three conducted an assessment of Save the Children’s efforts to reduce infant mortality in remote areas of Nepal.
For her M.P.H. capstone, Davis interned with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assess its first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, implemented in 2010, in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
“One aspect of my capstone was to educate health care workers on implementing the strategy in their state,” she says. “I’m very interested in infectious diseases.”
That’s why she’s excited to work at the CDC, despite the uncertainties and risks of such diseases. “While the heightened screening for Ebola puts that in perspective, the CDC has trained us well and continues to train us,” she says. “I like that every day is not the same. Playing detective on whether a disease is infectious or not is a rewarding experience, and I’m increasing my knowledge of public health and disease.”
Davis praises the DMU faculty she interacted with, including Shah; Mary Mincer Hansen, Ph.D., R.N., who retired in May 2014 as the M.P.H. program director/chair and associate professor; and her academic adviser, Rachel Reimer, Ph.D., who took over as M.P.H. director/chair on July 1. Davis says Reimer helped “map out my classes so I could specialize and make the program my own”; Hansen coached her through a “mock interview” to help her prepare for her CDC interview.
“I feel the faculty knew me even though the only one I met in person was Dr. Shah,” she says. “That speaks to its quality as a long-distance learning program.”