USF College of Public Health alumna Lindsay Womack said her very first public health experience consisted of conducting surveys about clean water in El Salvador during her senior year of college.
It was this experience that she said solidified her love for public health.
“It was during that trip that I saw the importance of public health—the importance of looking at the entire village in order to make long-lasting, systemic changes to improve not only their drinking water, but their overall quality of life,” Womack said.
After earning her BA in English, she changed courses and earned her MPH in epidemiology both from the University of Florida.
In deciding where to pursue her PhD, Womack said she was looking for a program to improve her analytic skills and she found herself in the COPH’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
“I was blessed to work with and learn from many people at USF—both professors and students,” she said. “I knew that USF had a strong epidemiology program.”
Womack, who graduated in May 2017 with her PhD, said her biggest inspiration at COPH was Dr. William Sappenfield, director of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies.
He hired Womack during the final semester of her MPH program to assist with a preconception health indicator report he was working on while at the Florida Department of Health (FDOH).
Womack continued to work at the FDOH for two more years as she completed her CSTE applied epidemiology fellowship in the Maternal and Child Health Practice and Analysis Unit.
“At that point, I only had a vague idea of what maternal and health child entailed,” Womack said. “During those first few months, he was incredibly patient with me as we met for hours looking over my data and he would explain concepts of maternal and child health that were brand new to me. I had the privilege of working with someone who lived out his passion every day.”
She also said Sappenfield was one of the reasons she decided to study at USF.
“Dr. Sappenfield had transitioned from the Florida Department of Health to USF and I knew that there was still a lot I could learn from him,” she said.
Womack also worked with Sappenfield at the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative as a graduate research assistant during her entire time in the PhD program.
“During those years, I would show Dr. Sappenfield endless amounts of data and he would always patiently help me see the bigger picture,” she said. “I learned how to use data to tell a story so that it could make an impact for the lives of women and infants in Florida. I know with certainty that I would not be where I am at today if it were not for Dr. Sappenfield. When I think about all that he has accomplished and all of the demands he has on his time, I am so thankful that he invested so much in me.”
Now, Womack is investing her time toward saving lives as an epidemic intelligence service (EIS) officer, assigned to the Division of Vital Statistics in the National Center for Health Statistics at CDC and is based in Hyattsville, Md.
“I love knowing that the work I’m doing at the CDC has the potential to impact people across the world,” Womack said. “EIS officers are sometimes referred to as disease detectives. They are often first on the scene when a public health emergency occurs.”
Womack said EIS officers help public health officials investigate and control infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola in Africa or chikungunya in the Americas.
Though she has not yet been deployed anywhere as of yet, Womack said that she loves using the epidemiology skills she learned at USF on a daily basis.
She’s currently analyzing the nation’s birth and death records for trends and associations, as well as analyzing sudden unexpected infant deaths in the U.S.
Womack said she often is running analyses on large datasets as well, a skill she said she learned as a student at the COPH.
“Being an EIS officer has been my dream job for a while,” Womack said.
Her dedication goes a step further with her role as a commissioned officer for the United States Public Health Service Corps (USPHS).
The USPHS consists of more than 6,500 public health professionals serving in the federal government’s departments and agencies supporting care to underserved and vulnerable populations, according to their website.
“The mission of the USPHS is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the nation,” Womack said. “One of the many ways the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service achieves its mission is through rapid and effective responses to public health needs. As an officer, I could be called upon to deploy in response to these public health needs.”
While her journey has taken her from the halls of the COPH to the walls of the CDC, Womack said she still visits her hometown of Orlando, Fla. often to visit her family.
She said her goals for the future include expanding upon her career at the CDC.
“I love the opportunities that I have to learn here and to work on projects that have a major impact on the health of the nation and world,” she said. “I decided to pursue my PhD with the goal of becoming an EIS officer. I’m still amazed that it actually happened! I feel very blessed and proud to have this opportunity.”
COPH Alumni Fast Five:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
I remember telling my first grade teacher that I wanted to be a “doctor for babies.” I’m a maternal and child health epidemiologist with a doctorate degree. I guess I’m not too far off from my first grade aspirations.
Where would we find you on the weekend?
In the fall, you will probably find me watching Gator football on Saturdays. On Sundays, I’ll be at church. Lately, I’ve also been trying to explore Washington D.C. and all that is has to offer. I’m already missing the Florida beaches though!
What is the last book you read?
“The Catcher in the Rye.” I fall in love with it again every time I read it.
What superpower would you like to have?
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
“While You Were Sleeping.”
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health
Tags: alumni, CDC, CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellowship, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Community and Family Health, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, EIS, Lindsay Womack, Maternal and Child Health, USPHS, William Sappenfield