Kaci Hickox works with the nation’s top epidemiologists to solve health crises.

Passion, Practicality Drive Nursing Graduate

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Alumna Kaci Hickox takes a reasoned approach to almost everything. She’s enthusiastic about nursing, but her career choices follow a logical order.

I always felt a strong desire to work overseas with vulnerable populations, and nursing seemed to be a perfect avenue,” she says. “On top of that, I knew there was—and still is—a nursing shortage and that I would have job security.”

It just made sense to pursue a two-year postgraduate fellowship in applied epidemiology with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Las Vegas.

Think of the CDCP’s Epidemic Intelligence Service as the CIA of public health. EIS teams respond to crises such as the West Nile virus and the pandemic H1N1 influenza outbreak. Hickox ’02 will work with the country’s top epidemiologists to analyze and improve health and disease surveillance.

Her first overseas project came in 2004 with the International Medical Corps after the tsunami in Indonesia. “While the work there was difficult and challenging, both professionally and emotionally, it also made me feel alive in a new way,” she says.

After Doctors Without Borders turned her down, she enrolled at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and received a Tropical Nursing Diploma. She also graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s dual program for a Master in Public Health and Master of Science in Nursing.

Her perseverance paid off. She landed that position she wanted with Doctors Without Borders in Myanmar in Southeast Asia, where she spent two years managing three primary health care clinics. In 2010 she was working on a measles outbreak in northern Nigeria when the Doctors Without Borders team conducted a medical investigation. Children were dying in one village, and the team discovered the cause to be acute lead poisoning from poor gold mining practices.

After that experience and others like it, I realize that we need to find better ways to improve health surveillance and outbreak response in settings with poor resources,” Hickox says. “My training in the EIS with the CDC will allow me to learn the gold standard of this kind of work.”

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