In search of educational opportunities and an expanded worldview, the Kim family immigrated from South Korea to New York City when Kaylee Kim, MPH was a child. That worldview for Kaylee ended up expanding farther than imagined, on to Tanzania and Botswana, all in the pursuit of global health. When deciding what to pursue in college, Kaylee originally focused on pre-med courses because “as an immigrant, you’re always wanting to prove yourself.” A mandatory global public health course ended up changing her career trajectory, opening her eyes to global disparities, and giving her a new appreciation for the resources she had grown up with. Suddenly, becoming a doctor no longer made sense—Kaylee’s view turned from micro to macro, embracing public health as a way to impact a larger population.
“As an immigrant, you’re always wanting to prove yourself.”
Kaylee enrolled in Boston University’s 4 + 1 program, pursuing health science as an undergraduate student for 3 years, followed by 2 years of graduate students in public health and east African studies. Already fluent in Korean and English, Kaylee added Swahili and Russian to her skillset. Graduate school research at Boston University focused on otolaryngology, a specialty that focuses on the head and neck. There, she contributed to publications proposing novel imaging techniques and learned to use data sets in an innovative, fast growing field. For her practicum, Kaylee looked at malaria resurgence (increase) in Tanzania, where she intended to analyze data pulled from archives in country. The archives turned out to be damaged by a flood, so Kaylee adapted to the circumstances by turning a quantitative proposal into a qualitative study. She conducted a literature review and interviewed local vendors of mosquito nets in Swahili, along with hospital staff and non-profit stakeholders. This crash course in intercultural communication and hands-on data collection was a lesson in resiliency and adaptability as she bridged both language and cultural barriers.
Becoming a Fellow and the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey
Wanting more international field and surveillance experience, Kaylee decided to apply to the PHI/CDC Global Health Fellowship Program. Analyzing data sets in school, Kaylee felt disconnected from knowing how a survey is conducted: “I wanted to see what was happening behind the scenes….from data collection all the way to analysis.” This goal led her to the fellowship in September 2018 where she was a Surveillance Fellow in Botswana with the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch within the Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis. Kaylee served as a field-based point of contact for the national HIV prevalence survey of Botswana, also known as the Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS).
“I wanted to see what was happening behind the scenes…from data collection all the way to analysis.”
This project consisted of two surveys: an HIV/Tuberculosis survey and an HIV survey. Kaylee’s role in the HIV/TB survey involved data tabulation (inputting the information to tables to analyze) and data management and reporting of survey data. She also worked close with government stakeholders and private contractors to implement the pilot survey and produce 30 versions of complex data systems. The HIV survey (the second survey and her current focus) involved a larger scope of work. Kaylee worked with the field implementation team, to improve linkage to care for people living with HIV in country. The survey involved geographic mapping of people living with HIV, preparing and producing training materials for 300+ field staff, developing standard operating procedures for the teams, and helping to oversee and implement the trainings.
Photos above courtesy of Kaylee Kim, 2021
Monitoring and evaluation efforts brought Kaylee to all regions of Botswana to partner with field teams and work with implementing partners to ensure the production of the highest quality of data possible. In addition, Kaylee worked with the CDC Headquarters team in Atlanta, with the end goal that these household-based surveys assess the prevalence of HIV across Botswana. The team looked for HIV related health indicators, determining what the risk factors for contracting HIV are and what contributes to viral load suppression (simply understood as lowering the amount of the virus in the body). By collecting this data, the team can better inform the country of where they need to go next with HIV policies and programs, along with what successes have been achieved in HIV prevention, care and treatment. In the big picture, this work contributes to the 95-95-95 goals, a plan “announced by UNAIDS in 2014, aiming to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 by achieving 95% diagnosed among all people living with HIV (PLHIV), 95% on antiretroviral therapy (ART) among diagnosed, and 95% virally suppressed (VS) among treated.” (CROI, 2021).
CDC’s COVID Response
As the pandemic unfolded in the spring of 2020, Kaylee temporarily relocated to Atlanta for 11 months, where she served remotely under multiple CDC Emergency Operation Center detail assignments for 7 months, working as a Data Analyst, Data Manager, and Health Scientist. Teams she supported included the Disproportionately Affected Adult Populations Team, the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, Reinfection Units, and the Epidemiology Task . The work was fast paced with tight 3 to 12 hour deadlines and required heavy data-based programming skills, surveillance techniques, and statistical software such as SAS and R. Facing high stakes pressure, Kaylee embraced the experience, expanding her knowledge base while forming social messaging and producing resources CDC leadership could use to impact the pandemic. Highlights included advocating for the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine access to populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic, assessing vaccine readiness across 64 US jurisdictions, along with contributions to scientific literature.
Seizing Learning Opportunities
Whether traveling to other countries in a pre-pandemic world or learning virtually, Kaylee took advantage of various trainings to increase her skillset. Before the pandemic, Kaylee traveled to London to learn about laboratory diagnosis of malaria and parasites at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and completed two courses in Amsterdam and Florence focused on GIS (ARC GIS and Q GIS). The fellowship allowed her to explore more interests, which she incorporates while working in the field now in Botswana.
When it comes to advice for other young public health professionals, Kaylee emphasizes soft skills and harnessing educational resources. Her Swahili professor, Geofred Osoro, encouraged her to apply for a scholarship for school with the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Program and helped organize her practicum and initial introduction into field work in Tanzania, inspiring her current career path. Kaylee is grateful for these learning experiences in the field in Tanzania and now Botswana, where public health professionals connect and work together towards “a common public health goal- better health for all.”
Kaylee recently completed the third and final year of the fellowship, and set her sights on goals for the future: gaining domestic public health work experience and eventually applying for a PhD program. Kaylee aims to “become a public health professional who can, with respect and passion, help guide and help lead a data driven program that brings improved health to as many people as possible.” While public health workers are often hidden in the background, their impact is far from small, and Kaylee is honored to be a part of that positive workforce fighting to reduce health disparities at .
“[my goal is to] become a public health professional who can, with respect and passion, help guide and help lead a data driven program that brings improved health to as many people as possible.”
Check out the Publications Kaylee Contributed to as a Fellow:
-Whitney Hall, Administration & Communications Specialist