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“Life plans are an illusion. I tell students that they cannot imagine the opportunities that life will present and that they should spend their time developing a life philosophy rather than a life plan.”
― William H. Foege MD, MPH (from “The Fears of the Rich, The Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC”)

In reflecting on his years as the former Director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Dr. William Foege, MPH, alludes to the fact that there is only so much we can plan for in life. Instead, identifying your values and aligning those values with a purpose should be the guiding force in career development.

2020 was a testament to Dr. Foege’s observation that life does not always follow our plans. In March, it became clear that COVID-19 had spread around the world, and the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program staff began working from home in response to local shelter in place orders. Just six months had passed since the orientation of our new fellows at CDC Headquarters in Atlanta in September 2019, but the world looked significantly different, and the future more uncertain.

As staff adjusted to remote work and streamlined how they would communicate best while being apart, they also began supporting the relocation of all 34 of our overseas fellows back to the U.S. Our domestic fellows began to work remotely as well, and fellows pivoted to receiving virtual mentorship and seeking virtual professional development opportunities. The program expanded our external and internal communications efforts, which included three virtual Town Halls with fellows, all of whom showed great resiliency, patience, and flexibility in adapting to a new world in the face of a global pandemic. Our Overseas-based fellows, whose lives were uprooted from their host countries, showed especially admirable perseverance and tenacity in unexpected circumstances.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and all 45 fellows transitioned to teleworking, CDC’s priorities and projects shifted. Our program responded by supporting 34 fellows’ participation in short term detail assignments with CDC’s Emergency Operations Center, working across various teams:

In response to the pandemic, the program created the PHI/CDC Global Health Podcast to highlight the work of our fellows, CDC mentors, alumni and program staff in monthly episodes. Greg Chang, MPH, featured in Episode 2, discussed his background working in HIV and COVID-19, and the lessons he has learned along the way as a fellow:

Greg was one of nine fellows who presented his work in the Fellows Showcase & Awards Ceremony in July 2020, moderated by Atlanta-based Surveillance Fellow, Danielle Fernandez, MPH. The presentations were divided into three topic areas of Fellowship Related Projects and Manuscript Writing, Lessons Learned and COVID-19 Detail.

In September 2020, 29 new fellows were virtually onboarded and oriented and remotely began supporting CDC’s Center for Global Health in Atlanta, DC and CDC host offices around the world. Fellows continued to support CDC’s response to COVID-19 in the US and abroad, and to date, program staff has supported 22 fellows relocate to their host country, in partnership with PHI and CDC’s Center for Global Health.

Although 2020 dealt several challenges and was not the year we expected, we are proud of the numerous fellow and mentor accomplishments achieved and the support we extended as a program along the way. Several fellows worked on publications and presentations, while all 64 fellows made meaningful contributions to CDC’s Global Health portfolio, learning from CDC global health experts:

  • 98% of fellows report obtaining on-the-job experience in their primary domain (epidemiology, HIV prevention, monitoring and evaluation, strategic information, program management, or surveillance) during the fellowship. Fellows described gaining practical experience in epidemiologic training, survey development and implementation, using R, QGIS and REDCap in practical settings, surveillance projects, and utilizing PEPFAR M&E tools such as DATIM and Panorama.
  • 100% of CDC mentors reported they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with progress made by fellows related to nonclinical skills including interpersonal, professionalism, cultural competency, and health diplomacy skills.

Congratulations to the following Fellows whose publications were finalized in 2020:

Cheryl Dietrich, MPH
Towards Achieving the 90-90-90 HIV Targets; Results from the South African 2017 National HIV Survey. BMC Public Health, 20 (1375). [Published September 9, 2020] View publication.
Courtney Sciarratta, MPH
Exposures in Adult Outpatients with COVID-19 Infection During Early Community Transmission, Tennessee (Letter to the Editor). Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses. [Published August 4, 2020] View publication.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in U.S. Children and Adolescents. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383:334-346. [Published July 23, 2020] View publication.

Characteristics of Adult Outpatients and Inpatients with COVID-19 –11 Academic Medical Centers, United States, March-May 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 69:841-846. [Published July 3, 2020] View publication.

Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return to Usual Health Among Outpatients with COVID-19 in a Multistate Health Care Systems Network — United States, March -June 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). [Published 24 July 2020]

Kaylee Kim, MPH
Serial Laboratory Testing for SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Incarcerated and Detained Persons in a Correctional and Detention Facility — Louisiana, April–May 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)69(26), 836-840. [Published July 3, 2020] View publication.
Riley Wagner, MPH
Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships — Worldwide, February -March 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 69:347-352. [Published March 27, 2020] View publication.
We look ahead at 2021 with excitement and anticipation for what will surely be a remarkable year in global health with the COVID-19 vaccine roll out. Thank you for following along with the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program.