CDC Scientist by Day, Professor by Night

612 918 For Our Wellness

Dr. Macarena Garcia believes her job is her calling, one she might not have discovered if not for a volunteer opportunity in Botswana where she served as project officer for a national HIV prevention initiative.

“This was the jolting moment in my professional career,” she explains. “My career goal since then has been to inform and improve circumstances for people living in resource-poor settings who are vulnerable and at higher risk of disease. {I’d been} planning on pursuing a career in international humanitarian law. I realized that my passion for the world was more than just interest in geopolitics.”

Law’s loss is the public health arena’s gain. After that fateful trip to Botswana, the young Macarena, who’d lived in California since the age of six when she immigrated with her parents from Argentina,  moved to Australia and completed a DrPH, International Public Health and Development at Flinder’s University. She is now a Senior Health Scientist at the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services.

Dr. Garcia at a conference in Zambia with Ananthy Thambinayagam, a USAID Health Officer.

“At any given moment, I am working on projects that range from the opioid overdose epidemic in the U.S., to Ebola in West Africa, to Zika in Colombia, to premature deaths from the leading causes of death in the U.S.”

She describes her title as a ‘bit fancy’ for her role of designing and conducting studies on high-priority public health issues for the agency and communicating those results through publishing, and presenting at conferences and meetings, among other avenues, but she loves the work. “The scope of my work is so diverse, which keeps things extremely interesting. Almost everything I do at the CDC fascinates me!”

It’s a completely different setting, but Dr. Garcia believes she’s just as fortunate in her role at The Chicago School. “I get to teach what I love.”  The work she does at the CDC connects with the three courses she teaches – Applied Fieldwork Seminar, Final Capstone, and Principles and Methods of Biostatistics.

“The courses are extremely applied and therefore my skills and experiences are interwoven not just in the course curriculum, but also in my daily interactions with students. I share examples from my work with students, and I also use published material from CDC programs as reading materials and examples of ‘real world’ studies, and the importance of knowledge transfer.”

Dr. Garcia believes working in public health goes beyond the clinical level, and that it is vital to the overall health of communities, both locally and globally.

A younger Macarena camping in the salt mines of Botswana.

“Population health provides a forum for exploration, knowledge seeking, and informed design of interventions to improve the health outcomes of communities as a whole, and it is founded on the idea of interconnectedness. By better understanding what affects communities and determines health outcomes, we can identify evidence-driven, culturally-sensitive, and effective interventions to meet the needs of the populations most vulnerable.”

For her, working in public health and international development is a privilege, one she cherishes. “The field has been my passion, likely stemming from my roots as an immigrant. To be able to serve in a professional capacity and do what I love most is not only thrilling, but incredibly rewarding.”

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