October 25, 2020

Interested in Public Health? Here’s How One Medical Student Explored His Passion for Public Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Work, Activities, and Extracurriculars

For this blog post, I interviewed Adam Kraus, a PGY1 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Kraus has always had a strong pull towards public health and decided to take a gap year during medical school to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Below, we discuss Adam’s background, his advice for pre-medical students contemplating a career in public health and/or medicine, and how he plans on incorporating his passion for global public health into his future practice as an internal medicine physician. 


1. Tell us a little bit about your background. What drew you to the field of medicine?


I have always wanted to care for others but was initially drawn to public health. I thought that I wanted to do global public health and work on high level programs until I got to work directly with patients in college. Traveling and seeing health inequities created a drive in me to ground any future public health work in interpersonal clinical connections. I find healing and the vulnerability that patients show us as physicians to be the highest privileges of our profession. At the same time, I recognized that only doing clinical work would not be sustainable. I am attracted to complex problems and found that working on an individual level within a broken system would not be fulfilling for me--I needed to also feel that I was working towards real change to improve the system itself.


2. How have you been able to incorporate your interest in global health into your medical training?


I was a Global Health Scholar in medical school. I was given the privilege of conducting global health research between MS1 and MS2. I also was subsidized to pursue an MPH and also given essentially unrestricted funding to pursue a global health project between my MS3 and MS4 years, which I chose to use to work at the CDC. Prior to medical school I spent a year working at a rural community health clinic in Haiti on a variety of projects including: sanitation, hygiene, traditional birth attendants, community health workers, vaccinations, surgical trips, mobile clinics and more. I found this to be a very formative experience that is factoring in my career aspirations to continue long-term work with communities and organizations in Haiti.


3. Two summers ago, you took one year off during medical school to serve as a Global Health Fellow at the CDC. What was that experience like for you?


Phenomenal! I still can't believe I was able to do it. I worked in the Global Immunization Division's Polio Eradication branch, which is a CDC team that works with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) composed of Unicef, WHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rotary Club. I worked alongside worldwide experts in polio vaccination and eradication. I was given major responsibilities in creating risk assessment tools and gained immense amounts of technical expertise in the field. I was treated as a full employee with no distinction between myself and other members of our team. My technical expertise was taken seriously after only a couple of months on the job and I felt that I was able to make real contributions to polio eradication. Additionally, I put into practice much of the epidemiology I learned through my MPH while advocating for real systemic change on an international level and work to get the world to zero poliovirus infections.


4. What has been your most memorable experience at the CDC?


I was lucky enough to travel with a supervisor to Lisbon, Portugal to meet with representatives from the GPEI and discuss the tool I was creating to compare risk of poliovirus transmission across the world (which had never been done before). I helped to lead the meeting with my supervisor and was looked to as the technical expert on the tool. I spoke with the head of the Global Certification Commision, who will be the overseeing member of the committee to officially certify the world as polio-free. It was a time during my year where I was able to showcase what I had worked on while learning immensely from an international group representing some of the foremost global health agencies around the world.


5. Do you see yourself being involved in global or public health in the long term?


Definitely! As I had mentioned, I am personally motivated to blend clinical work with global public health. While I am not positive how this is going to look in the future, I am currently very interested in rethinking primary care models around the world to try and recreate systems to best serve patients and physicians together to achieve health for communities. 


6. What advice do you have for pre-medical students and current medical students on pursuing their interest in global health?


Go for it! Reach out to people you know and ask for advice. I found so many people who were willing to speak with me and that is how I started my global health work--I emailed alumni from my university out of the blue and was able to connect with a few of them who were able to point me towards organizations to work with. I would try to find global health centers at one’s own universities as they often have funding and resources and can advise appropriately. Try to find email lists that colleges have for post-graduate employment opportunities, as they will have global health volunteer and employment experiences if you are willing to take time off before medical school. Another great place to start is at Global Health Me which sets students up with mentors from around the world. You can find more info here: https://www.ghmentorships.org/

I think that we all have a duty to critically prepare and assess the work that we might participate in, as global health is an ethically-complicated field. Therefore, I always advocate for doing classroom learning as you can to have a solid foundation in history and theory before heading out into the field so that you can pick up on what meaningful and ethical global health work is. You also don't have to travel to do global health, we have needs in many marginalized communities in the US and there are so many options to get involved. I am also always happy to speak with interested students.


7. What do you envision yourself doing in the next few years that are global health related?  


Right now global health is taking a back seat to my clinical training as an Internal Medicine-Pediatrics resident. I am honing my clinical skills at this phase of my training in full anticipation of returning to global health after I finish residency. That being said, I am keeping up my previously established connections while also trying to work on a couple of research projects to continue some global health work. I hope to do some clinical rotations abroad in the latter part of my residency, but we will see. 


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