Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Allison Miller, BS’15, MPH’17, has participated in three separate deployments for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In each position, she has relied on the education she received through the MPH in Epidemiology program at the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and experience she gained during an internship at the Indiana State Department of Health.
Miller learned about the MPH program at Fairbanks after completing her biology degree on the Indiana University Bloomington campus.
“During my undergraduate program, I ended up taking a human diseases and epidemiology class and another public health class, and I enjoyed both.” In each class, she enjoyed learning about infectious diseases and their progression in the modern world, such as influenza, which led her to apply for the MPH program at Fairbanks.
“As a student, I made lifelong friends because while the epidemiology program was the largest program at FSPH, it is still small enough to make real connections with other students and faculty.”
In addition to the connections she made with the Fairbanks family, Miller says she believes her education is comparable, if not better, than educations received by her peers at larger schools of public health.
“My concentration was in epidemiology, but I received a well-rounded education in public health. I have very strong statistic skills and data management skills, as well as familiarity with environmental health. Every single class was different; I was learning a lot of new things.”
During her time as a student, Miller worked part-time as an intern on the IU Student Enteric Response Team at the Indiana State Department of Health. She now works on the National Outbreak Reporting System for the CDC as the Epidemiologist and Data Manager for waterborne disease outbreaks.
“My internship gave me the experience I needed from a user endpoint to help me in my role today. I had an offer for my ORISE Fellowship at CDC one month after I graduated, and I am now a full-time employee for CDC.”
During Miller’s time at the CDC, she has been deployed three times. She worked as a coordinator for field teams doing initial investigations for some of the first US cases of COVID-19 and coordinated data related to the outbreak. At that point, it was still very early, and very few cases.
In this role, she gained experience understanding how to effectively mitigate the spread and how the plans needed to change as community spread increased. Miller’s second deployment was for coordinating teams of CDC employees conducting special studies looking at how the outbreak has impacted special populations. In her third deployment, she was a part of the clinical team conducting the data analysis and management as part of a pediatric mortality study related to COVID-19. The study was published in September.
While Miller is proud of the work she is doing at CDC, she believes that all jobs in the public health field are essential. “No jobs in this pandemic are insignificant. There are many great public health organizations throughout the United States’ health departments and nonprofits doing public health work. Everything that everyone is doing is so vital to public health prevention and mitigation.”
Throughout the pandemic and her career, Miller has constantly reminded herself about advice she once received in a data management class at Fairbanks.
“The advice I come back to daily is that every single number I am looking at is a person. And I use that perspective to help remember why I am doing this work and why it is important. These are not just numbers in a spreadsheet, a database, or a headline. These are human beings.”