Interview with a CDC Epidemiologist

Dr. Snigdha Vallabhaneni currently works as a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. She received her undergraduate and medical degrees from Brown University and received a Masters of Public Health from UC Berkeley.

The Public Health Advocate: How did you become interested in public health?

Dr. Snigdha Vallabhaneni: Growing up in India, I was keenly aware of many infectious diseases, including diarrheal illnesses, dengue and malaria, after falling ill with one of these infections myself. Those experiences got me interested in becoming a doctor, but when I realized that there was more to treating those infections than medications – that is was really a clean water supply, good sanitation, and vector control that would really make a difference for these types of infections, I began to appreciate the value of public health. As I learned more about all the different areas of health, that public health interventions could impact, including mental well-being, chronic diseases, dental health, and infectious disease, to name a few, I decided that a path in public health was the right one for me.

PHA: What is your role at the CDC?

SV: I am a medical epidemiologist — in other words, a medical disease detective — in the fungal diseases branch. I investigate outbreaks of fungal disease around the world, conduct surveillance to understand the burden of fungal diseases, and conduct epidemiological studies to understand why certain people get certain types of infections while others don’t, so that we can understand how to prevent disease.

PHA: How does public health feature in your role at the CDC?

SV: CDC is public health practice 24/7. Almost everything I do there has to do with protecting the health of the public.

PHA: What is the value of public health education to you?

SV: It was the Masters programs in Public Health at Berkeley with Dr. Art Reingold that actually got me to think like a disease detective. I learned about he methods and techniques used in epidemiology to ask the right questions and answer them using the right methodology. It has been invaluable in my day-to-day practice of public health.

PHA: What advice do you have for undergraduates that are pursuing public health?

SV: Do it! There are so many ways you can apply your education to make the world a better place. The possibilities are endless.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 print issue.