Campus: University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Class of 1993
Employer: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
The “investigative” nature of public health
When the spread of diseases need to be tracked, controlled and prevented, alumna Dr. Lisa Miller and her team at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division are the first to respond.
As the Director of the Division, Dr. Miller provides oversight to the programs responsible for monitoring and controlling communicable diseases and technical guidance on environmental health issues for the State. Her staff maintains a disease-monitoring network, works with the state’s healthcare providers to stop epidemics and provides technical assistance statewide in the control and treatment of certain infectious diseases.
“I definitely enjoy the variety of topics that I get involved in—on any given day it can range from A to Z. Topics that our division covers includes things like autism and zoonotic diseases such as rabies,” says Dr. Miller. “There are also new diseases and conditions that affect public health that we need to quickly learn about and respond to, such as novel H1N1.”
Response to any epidemic begins with investigation and education so that when there is a Hepatitis C or H1N1 outbreak in the State there is a plan in place. Dr. Miller and her team use public information, education and training to facilitate behavior change in communities and prevent diseases. Because of this investigative nature of her job, Dr. Miller jokes she would be an FBI agent in another life.
“I have really enjoyed being able to be a part of new areas of inquiry - working on hantavirus surveillance and control when it was a newly recognized entity in the US, being part of an autism surveillance network that is determining trends in autism prevalence, and the recent work on novel H1N1 virus,” Dr. Miller explains.
Her day is often spent trying to answer tough questions such as, “how can we quickly learn what we need to know about these conditions?” and “how can we best inform the public?” With her help, the answers to these questions are formulated through prevention planning with coalitions of interested and affected groups. “These are challenging areas, but also very rewarding,” says Dr. Miller.
Though she has been in her current position for six years, Dr. Miller has held a variety of positions in the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division. Since completing her MSPH and preventative medicine residency program from CSPH in 1993, she has been a hantavirus surveillance coordinator, birth defects program manager and temporary chief medical officer. Even through position changes, she has continued to use her public health skills and relationships she developed during her time at CSPH.
“The quantitative skills I learned were very useful,” Dr. Miller says. “The other tremendous benefit for me was the connection to the faculty and other students. In many ways I feel that I have continued to learn from these individuals and have formed working relationships with them that continue to enrich my career 16 years later!”
“Make sure you have a good basic foundation— if you get the basics down and can work well with people, there are lots of different options,” she says.