I am thankful to God for ordering my steps and for preparing me to walk into my life’s purpose. After working five years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s time for me to say farewell to my public health career and hello to my destiny! I am ecstatic and thankful to begin the next chapter in my life and career. Naturally, I have been taking time to reflect on everything that I accomplished throughout my public health career and to thank the people that I worked with. I thought I would share some of my reflections with you all on my blog, in hopes that it inspires you to live your best life and to go after all of your dreams, including the dreams that you believe you are unworthy or unqualified for.
My life’s desire has always been to be a person for others, by taking care of people through the practice of medicine. My mother is a nurse, and thus, throughout my childhood, I curiously observed her and the physician she worked for, while they talked to patients in the primary care office. I had a strong desire to take care of others, including strangers, at a young age. This desire ignited like a fire in my heart and never went out. In high school, I saw my first cadaver during a summer medical training program, and I knew that I wanted to study the human body for the rest of my life.
During my undergraduate studies, I became an Emergency Medical Technician. After responding to a drug overdose, the need for me to gain advanced medical training to achieve my dream was evident. I wasn’t satisfied with being a first responder, I wanted to be the one determining a patient’s treatment options. In July 2007, I shadowed an obstetrician/gynecologist and witnessed the beauty of birth. As the baby took its first breath, I watched its skin color change as oxygen spread, and my thirst for medical knowledge expanded; I was determined to serve others as a physician.
My pre-med advisor told me that I didn’t have a good chance at getting accepted to medical school due to my science GPA and that I would have to find my own way to medical school. For those of you not familiar with the medical school application process, if your school has a pre-med advisor, that advisor must write a letter regarding their recommendation for medical school admission. My pre-med advisor, who happened to also be my Orientation Advisor Supervisor, told me that she would not recommend me for medical school admission. After feeling my heart break, I decided to keep what little hope I had left, alive. I wasn’t very confident that I was good enough to become a physician, but something deep within me kept pushing forward. I didn’t think I was smart enough or worthy of living out my dreams. I know it sounds crazy, but at the time I was vulnerable and believed that I was unqualified. I did however, take her advice and I begin developing a plan to find my own way to medical school. I’m actually very thankful for that experience because I discovered that I had other talents which developed into a second dream — a career in public health.
I was introduced to public health and the relationship between social justice and community health in my junior year of college. I was flabbergasted that social determinants of health, and not healthcare, are statistically significant factors of health. I questioned how physicians could improve health under these conditions. Consequently, I was determined to understand the complexities of prevention and treatment, and to develop a solution to improve community health. I decided to obtain a Master of Public Health to approach medicine with a public health lens.
Following graduation in 2013, I began working for the CDC in the Public Health Associate Program, which is a two-year field training assignment, at the New York State Department of Health Bureau of HIV/AIDS Epidemiology. I wanted to gain more public health experience, because my education alone was not enough to answer my question, “How can I apply public health methodologies to my future medical practice?” While in New York, I quickly learned how public health practitioners utilize electronic medical record data to detect people living with HIV, identify their sexual partners for testing, and administer risk-reduction counseling. Behavior is difficult to change. However, nudging patients through evidence-based public health interventions can increase their likelihood to stay in the continuum of care. Their active participation can lead to decreasing their viral load, and ultimately reduce incidence within a community. I recognized how public health and medicine intersect, and how physicians can implement behavioral interventions to improve community health.
I enjoyed my time at CDC and began to feel that I had learned and achieved a great deal. I started my public health career at CDC in the field at the New York State Department of Health, where I played a key role in HIV-related surveillance and was recognized by the NYSDOH Commissioner for my teamwork and leadership related to the implementation of the new CDC and Association of Public Health Laboratories HIV diagnostic testing algorithm. Throughout my time at CDC, I was fortunate to assist with the initial operation and execution of the $12.8 million allocated to state health departments for the current opioid epidemic, to be deployed in 2015 to Sierra Leone for the 2014 Ebola Virus Response and in 2016 to CDC’s Emergency Operation Center for the 2016 Zika Virus Response as a member of the CDC’s Global Rapid Response Team, to publish a MMWR QuickStat regarding affordable healthcare, and to publish a CDC National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief regarding marital status among women and employer-based health insurance; both publications were published as first author.
While at CDC, I learned a lot about myself. I recognized my intelligence and my leadership skills. Many of my colleagues told me that I achieved more than most people in their entire public health careers. I was shocked and humbled. After reflecting on my experiences at CDC, I developed greater confidence in my ability to serve others as a physician. I am blessed to have worked at CDC, which is the public health institution in the United States.
I could not have achieved these accomplishments without the support from my mentors and colleagues. More importantly, I could not have achieved these accomplishments without God and my tenacious desire to succeed wherever I am in order to reach the next level of my career. I am thankful to have a supportive family, that cheered for me every step of the way. I never lost sight of my ultimate goal, even while working in a cubicle when I desperately wanted to be in a clinical setting. The dreaded cubicle became a suitable study and work space to prepare for the MCAT and to write medical school application essays.
I always tried my best at CDC and pushed forward no matter how difficult it was to achieve the goals I set for myself. I did this because I knew that the gained skills, knowledge and experiences would only enhance my ability to be a the best physician that I can be for my future patients and for my community. I wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes. Trust me, being a junior-level employee at the CDC was not easy. Moreover, being a junior-level employee with high ambitions and a strong work ethic, made for a more interesting and challenging work experience than I expected. Nevertheless, I worked towards being the truest version of myself, which required me to look at fear and to stand steadfast in my hope. By growing spiritually and mentally, I could handle any situation at work. Throughout the past five years, I learned how to navigate challenging work environments and to be my best advocate. I always asked for the opportunity to do something, even if I felt afraid to ask. My faith is what kept me pressing toward my dream, regardless of what anyone said or how I felt.
I’m overjoyed 🙃 to begin my next journey and I’m thankful for the lessons learned and skills gained while at CDC. Farewell permanent government job✌🏾, hello destiny 🙌🏾! It gives me great joy to finally announce that I will begin medical school this week at my top choice, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Thanks be to God! I am blessed to learn how to take care of others by treating their mind, body and spirit.
I hope that my brief story inspires you to stay steadfast pressing towards achieving all of your dreams. It is never too late to begin the journey to live your life’s purpose. Trust the timing of your life, and always try your best. The following quote inspired me to take the final leap of faith to quit my job and begin medical school at the age of 31.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. — Anais Nin
Love and light,
Jessica L. Simpson, MPH