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M.S.P.H. Alumna Accepted into Prestigious CSTE Fellowship

Carissa Lynn Rodriguez, M.S.P.H. ‘23, will spearhead the monitoring of data collection across 58 birth facilities and 2 birthing centers in Tennessee as part of her Maternal and Child Health Applied Epidemiology Fellowship.

As a fellow, Rodriguez will receive two years of on-the-job training at the Tennessee Department of Health, supervised by two experienced mentors.

The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) founded the Applied Epidemiology Fellowship (AEF) utilizing a mentorship approach to teach recent graduates in the emerging field of applied epidemiology.

Carissa Rodriguez
Carissa Rodriguez, M.S.P.H.

Rodriguez’s path to the Tennessee Department of Health's Maternal and Child Health AEF was guided by a desire for exceptional mentorship and research opportunities. Her choice of the Tennessee Department of Health was motivated by mentorship from Dr. Elizabeth Harvey and Dr. Julie Traylor, both accomplished fellows of the CSTE fellowship program. Rodriguez sought mentors who not only possessed a deep understanding of the CSTE fellowship but also could serve as inspiring role models in both professional and academic realms. “Plus, I got to move to Nashville, Music City never gets boring!” said Rodriguez.

In her role as a Maternal and Child Health fellow, Rodriguez is embarking on two significant projects.

The first involves conducting a crucial needs assessment of the Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, a statewide endeavor that occurs every five years. This assessment aims to identify and prioritize maternal and child health concerns within Tennessee. Rodriguez’s responsibilities include synthesizing quantitative data from various sources and conducting qualitative data collection through focus groups and key informant interviews. Her work will play a pivotal role in identifying high-priority maternal and child health issues, ensuring that resources are directed where they are needed most.

Her second project involves the reimplementation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Levels of Care Assessment Tool (CDC LOCATe) within Tennessee's birthing facilities. Last conducted in 2018, this assessment tool enables jurisdictions to establish standardized maternal and neonatal care levels standardized assessments, ensuring that care aligns with risk-appropriate standards. Rodriguez will spearhead the monitoring of data collection and overall response rates across 58 birth facilities and 2 birthing centers. After meticulous data collection and cleaning, she will collaborate with the CDC Division of Reproductive Health to evaluate maternal and neonatal levels of care, contributing to the enhancement of healthcare standards. 

As part of her application, Rodriguez submitted samples of epidemiology and data analysis projects that she completed both inside and outside of the classroom. Rodriguez credits her M.S.P.H. thesis as a big part of her application, as she highlighted the epidemiological methods used in her analysis and displayed her statistical analysis skills.

Rodriguez’s journey into public health and epidemiology began with limited academic exposure to the field. “I couldn’t even tell you what epidemiology was!” she stated.

However, her tenure in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine revealed the wealth of resources available to support her professional development. Viviana E. Horigian, M.D., M.H.A., professor and director of Public Health Education in the Department of Public Health Sciences, was Rodriguez’s first professor and academic advisor. “Dr. Horigian became a steadfast source of encouragement throughout my graduate school journey, providing unwavering support even during moments of self-doubt,” Rodriguez said.

Alongside Dr. Horigian, Rodriguez worked with Dr. Erin Kobetz, Dr. Zinzi Bailey, and Dr. Jordan Baeker-Bispo. These dedicated mentors nurtured her growth as an epidemiologist, fostering her development in the field.

Rodriguez’s selection for the Maternal and Child Health AEF marks a significant milestone in her journey. Her commitment to mentorship and her passion for maternal and child health promises to make a lasting impact on Tennessee's healthcare landscape. As she continues to learn and grow, guided by her mentors and driven by her dedication, Rodriguez represents the future of epidemiology – one that embraces challenges, transforms communities, and empowers lives.

Written by Deycha Torres Hernández
Published on September 25, 2023