The Disease Detective
When Jennifer Lind joined the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in 2012, she knew she wasn’t just taking a job. She was taking on the privilege and responsibility to protect the health of the global population.
Lind is the lead scientist for the CDC’s Treating for Two initiative, which aims to improve the health of expectant mothers and their babies by providing guidance about using medication before and during pregnancy.
The 35-year-old pharmacist and epidemiologist is one of Georgia State’s 40 Under 40, a list of the most influential and innovative graduates under the age of 40.
“My work focuses on safer medication use during pregnancy and researching the prevention and control of risk factors for birth defects,” she said.
According to Lind, public health was not even on her radar when she graduated from pharmacy school in 2007. She and her classmates were advised to become retail or hospital pharmacists or to work for pharmaceutical companies. Lind chose retail pharmacy in Atlanta.
“I was working in a community with a lot of chronic disease,” she said. “Many of my patients had multiple chronic diseases, so they were on lots of medications. I felt there had to be a way to stop people from getting to that point — where they’re on 15 medications and you’re just trying to keep them functioning. I wanted to change things on a higher level.”
That’s when Lind began researching jobs and decided to get a master’s degree in public health at Georgia State.
When she took her first course in epidemiology, which addresses the incidence, distribution and control of diseases, Lind knew she had found her calling. With the encouragement of Regents’ Professor Richard Rothenburg, Lind applied to the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) program. She got accepted and joined the ranks of a group of CDC officers known as the “disease detectives.”
When disease outbreaks or other public health threats emerge, EIS officers investigate, identify the causes, implement control measures and collect evidence for preventive actions.
While Lind likes being able to make a difference on a large scale, one-on-one patient interaction remains important to her. She volunteers at a clinic in Dekalb County and also serves in the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which puts her on the front lines during crises.
During the 2013 Ebola outbreak, the PHS sent her to work emergency operations at the CDC. During the Zika outbreak, they deployed her to Puerto Rico where she helped with the local response effort for two months.
And now with the opioid epidemic, she’s a lead scientist on work to address neonatal abstinence syndrome — babies born to mothers addicted to opioids.
“So, I have my day job, where I’m able to do great things on a national scale,” Lind said, “but at the same time, I’m able to get involved on the ground when public health emergencies pop up.”
Photo by Meg Buscema