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Nurses at the CDC

Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, news director

AJN, American Journal of Nursing: January 2008 - Volume 108 - Issue 1 - p 86–87
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000305140.66121.8c
DEPARTMENT: Profiles
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They can be found in some surprising places.

It's hard to say for sure when nurses began working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yvonne Green, MSN, RN, CNM, director of the Office of Women's Health at the CDC, notes that (according to Elizabeth Etheridge, writing in Sentinel for Health: A History of the Centers for Disease Control) there were nurses involved in malaria surveillance in 1947, one year after the CDC began.

“We unofficially count 165 nurses today,” she reports, with titles ranging from deputy director to epidemiologist to health scientist; many are members of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). AJN will begin providing regular reports from the CDC on new initiatives and research, many of them involving RNs. Here are just a few examples of the work being done by nurses.

Susan Aydlotte, MSN, RN, is a newcomer to the CDC and a second-career RN, in a position that she says is “tailor-made for her” because of her prior career in marketing and public relations. Aydlotte is the clinical director for CDC-INFO, a new group serving as the point of contact for consumers and health care providers seeking information from the 40 departments within the CDC. It's also the group responsible for disseminating information during public health emergencies. Aydlotte reviews the information for accuracy and clarity, often working with scientists to create consumer-friendly language. With only half of the departments having made the transition to the new service, CDC-INFO is already receiving “more than 1,200 calls and 150 e-mails daily,” she says. Aydlotte stresses that her group “is not just a phone number.” It's more of a filtering group, with three distinct levels of response, from trained customer service representatives who follow scripts to direct callers to the correct information, to health care professionals who can assist other health professionals with specific inquiries. CDC-INFO also monitors trends to discern any possible disease outbreaks.

Virginia Baresch, MPH, RN, is the public health advisor at the Division of Strategic National Stockpile, the federal supply of medications and supplies that can be accessed during disasters and delivered where needed within 12 hours. There are 12 such stockpiles strategically located around the country. One of 18 advisors, she spends about 50% of her time in “her” states—Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico—helping them to improve disaster-response capabilities and training them in the technical aspects of receiving and managing the supplies. Baresch was originally an oncology nurse and says her experience volunteering in Thai refugee camps “changed her life”: that's when she switched her focus to community and public health nursing. Working at the CDC, she says, lets her combine her interest in public health and her aptitude for strategic planning. Before coming to the CDC, Baresch worked in Hawaii, assisting with regional planning for the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies initiative. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, she returned to her home state of Minnesota to “take a position in the new field of emergency preparedness.” She was involved in disaster planning at both the local and state levels. “It's amazing to see how far we've come since 9/11,” she says.

Ruth Shults, PhD, MPH, is a captain in the USPHS and the only nurse in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. After working with adolescents as a public health nurse in Kansas and Oklahoma, Shults entered the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, a highly selective two-year postgraduate epidemiology program. Since 1954 about 50 RNs have participated. Shults's current focus is making the process of learning to drive safer for adolescents, a challenge, she says, because most traffic laws are state laws. “So we repeat our processes 50 times.” She's also been involved in systematic reviews of the evidence on minimum drinking ages, which she says are some of the most evaluated laws on the books. “And the evidence is clear,” she says. “Lowering the drinking age increases motor vehicle accidents.” For Shults, the reward is using science to affect policy.

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Commander James “Mark” Simmerman, PhD, RN, is chief of the influenza section of the CDC's International Emerging Infections program in Bangkok, Thailand. After working in Alaska for the Indian Health Service and in New Orleans for a state immunization program, Simmerman arrived in southeast Asia in late 2001, just in time for the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome and the emergence of the H5N1 avian influenza in humans. “I was in the right place at the right time” for an epidemiologist, he says. Since then, he has been involved in investigating disease outbreaks, conducting surveillance, working with nations in the region to develop outbreak-response teams and influenza control strategies, and conducting research on influenza. He describes his job as “tremendously demanding and challenging,” routinely calling for 50 to 60 hour weeks and lots of travel. He says that a trip planned for two days can turn into weeks if a disease outbreak occurs. Simmerman says the best part has been “the amazing opportunities I've had for a guy who didn't travel much [before joining the USPHS]. It's incredibly important to get perspective from other parts of the world.”

Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, news director

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.