Early-Career Public Health Professional: Dinorah Lissette Calles

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day, we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day. Our fourth professional today: Dinorah Lissette Calles, Ph.D., M.P.H., lieutenant at the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and epidemic intelligence service (EIS) officer (Class of 2013) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned to North Dakota.

CallesDLWhat drew you to a career in public health?

I love the interdisciplinarity of public health. As an epidemiologist, understanding culture, values, beliefs and population behavior is fundamental to the understanding of multilevel determinants of health and knowing what information to gather, how to gather it and how to process and disseminate it. In my research to date, I have drawn from disciplines such as anthropology, history, psychology and education studies to apply appropriate field research and analytical methodologies. While epidemiology is of course rigorous and quantitative in methods, it also calls for a measure of creativity in design and application of methodology, rendering it a fascinating discipline. The service aspect of public health is also incredibly rewarding. At the end of the day, knowing that one’s work has the potential for impacting a community’s or population’s well-being is a tremendous privilege.

What has been the most rewarding component of your current position as an EIS officer?

An EIS assignment to a state health department allows for work in a broad range of health events, and having the opportunity to serve in diverse settings and in rich collaborations at all levels of public health – local, state, tribal, federal and international – has been nothing short of amazing. In my first year, I responded to a large healthcare — associated outbreak, coordinated a large multi-agency health screening event in an American Indian reservation, assisted in a state-level evaluation of a vaccine-preventable disease, worked in partnership with a large county to interview Hispanic community members about health beliefs and behaviors, among other projects. That my work has informed public health practice at the local and state level is humbling.

In addition, I am an officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and I am “on-call” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for any public health emergency. For instance, I have assisted my state through multiple evening and weekend shifts when our Department Operations Center has been activated for emergencies and outbreak investigations. As a USPHS officer, I was available as a public health first responder for a large outbreak in my state through the government shutdown of 2013. My field post experiences have proved invaluable for my deployment to Liberia in 2014 to help support the Ebola response, where I lent assistance to data management at the national surveillance level. Going to the field with a background and direct experience in surveillance data and system data flow evaluation between state and federal reporting channels strengthened the integrated support I was able to provide to the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The perspectives I gained at the state level with regards to leadership, capacity building and designing sustainable epidemiologic tools and interventions are now invaluable assets informing my activities as an epidemiologist and public health professional in whatever setting I may serve.

How do you hope to contribute to public health in your future career?

The common threads weaving through all my public health experiences as a field officer are the elements of service, translating quality information into quick and effective action, and the responsibility of protecting a population’s health with excellence, cultural sensitivity, and in a manner that is relevant and sustainable within a community-specific context. I very much enjoy facilitating epidemiologic practice-based training and capacity building, and I aim to continue my public health career in CDC. I envision being in a position that lends epidemiologic technical assistance in surveillance and field epidemiology methods and contributing to maternal and child health projects and research initiatives domestically and internationally. I also hope to build on public health preparedness principles learned in my field post and incorporate them into any work involving strengthening surveillance and data systems in which I may engage.

She earned her master’s in public health from the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center, School of Public Health, and her doctorate in epidemiology from Emory University. While at Emory, she was awarded a J. William Fulbright grant for dissertation field research in Brazil to study the characterizations of psychosocial and biological stress factors and associations with self-reported race and bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy.

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