Dr. Jason Salemi’s passion for birth defects prevention is not going unnoticed.
Salemi, USF College of Public Health alumnus and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, has been named the 2018 president of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), a not-for-profit organization maintaining a national network of state and population-based programs for birth defects surveillance and research.
Established with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBDPN uses birth defects surveillance data for research, planning and evaluation activities that support the primary prevention of birth defects and the improvement of outcomes for children and families living with birth defects.
Members include public health officials, epidemiologists, academics and parents.
“Birth defects are common, costly, and critical,” Salemi said. “About one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Although not all birth defects can be prevented, there are things women and families can do to increase the chances that their baby will have the best health possible.”
Salemi said the organization also develops guidelines and standards that inform agencies who track birth defects in the U.S. and internationally, and generates annual reports on birth defects prevalence within the U.S., disseminating them to researchers, public health agencies and advocates.
Since 2005, Salemi has served in various birth defects surveillance, research, and prevention roles.
He began by designing abstraction database management systems and data quality evaluations before transitioning to epidemiologic investigations, and then managing day-to-day program activities at the USF Birth Defects Surveillance Program in Tampa, Fla.
“I think one of my biggest strengths is the enthusiasm and passion that I bring with me every day, and hope I can inject some of that energy into activities and events that serve NBDPN’s mission. After all, my practice is my passion!” Salemi said.
In 2014 he joined Baylor College of Medicine and has maintained active involvement with the Florida and Texas programs on a myriad of activities that include the programs’ response to the Zika virus epidemic.
“I envision [NBDPN] supporting and showcasing the ability of programs not only to generate high-quality, but also timely data on birth defects, as well as expanding our visibility and interaction with other organizations and advocates,” he said. “It’s also a very important year for strategic planning and reorganization that will optimize the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness going forward.”
Salemi’s said his role is a three year commitment which began in 2017 as president-elect. For 2018 he will serve as president of the NBDPN and then transition to the role of immediate past president in 2019.
As a third generation Tampa native, with both Cuban and Italian ancestry, Salemi said he found USF a fitting choice for pursuing his education—so much so, that after earning his BS in biology in 2000 he decided to also earn both his MPH in 2005 and his PhD in 2014 in the epidemiology and biostatistics concentration, along with graduate certificates in biostatistics in 2004 and applied biostatistics in 2008.
He said his love for public health has been inherent since infancy.
“Unbeknownst to me, I became introduced to public health while my mother received prenatal care when I was still ‘coming together,’ when I was vaccinated shortly after birth, when I began wearing a seat belt and bicycle helmet, and when my parents were educated on the importance of quitting smoking, which they did not only for them, but for me, too,” he said.
He’s currently an affiliate assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics for the COPH, as well as an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
While he said it was hard to leave his hometown, he’s enjoying his current position.
“I love the opportunity to partake in cutting-edge medical and public health research at a college of medicine ranked in the top 20 nationally in research and top 10 in primary care, and embedded within the largest medical center in the world,” Salemi said. “I love the daily challenges, the need to think critically, the collaboration with a special cadre of individuals, and the feeling that what we do really matters.”
In July 2016, he was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Researcher Award and now serves as the director of analytics for Baylor’s Center for Population Health Research and the assistant director of the department’s Primary Care Research Fellowship.
He also was a 2017 recipient of the COPH’s Outstanding Alumni Award.
Salemi has published more than 90 peer-reviewed scientific articles, most focusing on evaluation of surveillance programs, data systems, and technological and methodological issues in epidemiology.
“I love that we public health professionals are collectively invaluable cogs in the wheel of the world’s health,” he said. “We fight for those who are most vulnerable. We help people to help themselves and try to create an environment for them to be successful in doing so. At our core, we serve others and simply make life better.”
Alumni Fast Five:
What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
A professional athlete, an astronaut, a doctor, a sportscaster, a teacher…when I was young, I dreamed a lot!
Where would we find you on the weekend?
In the gym, out for a jog, or watching a movie with Jennifer, my currently 24-week pregnant wife (our first child, boy, Gabriel). I’ll ignore the weekends in the office!
What is the last book you read?
What superpower would you like to have?
Time control/manipulation would be pretty cool.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
A tie: “Shawshank Redemption” and “Dead Poets Society.”
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health