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Public Health Epidemiology Conversations Podcast


Episode #211 Filling The Gap Between Clinical Health Care & Public Health, With Dr. Meghan O’Connell


This episodes guest is a clinical doctor and a public health practitioner, who is working towards bridging the gap between these two somewhat disconnected fields.

Dr. Meghan O’Connell has dedicated her life’s work to the achievement of health equity in the United States, and firmly believes that connecting clinical medicine and public health is an essential element in reaching the goal to eliminate health disparities.

Dr. O’Connell has worked in a number of roles throughout her career, which you will hear briefly about today, but the main focus of our discussion is on the work that she is currently doing with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center (GPTEC), and tribal communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the existing vulnerabilities of Native American tribes. During the conversation on this episode, Dr. O’Connell shares the challenges she has faced regarding public health data acquisition for these communities. There is a discussion about Dr. O’Connell and the Tribal Epidemiology Centers effort to address these challenges.

Meet Dr. O'Connell

Meghan Curry O’Connell, MD, MPH (Cherokee) is the Medical Epidemiologist for the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board (GPTLHB) as part of the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Corps. The GPTLHB represents 18 tribal communities throughout a four-state region of Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center (GPTEC) is a core component of the GPTCHB, providing leadership, technical assistance, support and advocacy for the tribal communities throughout the region. Dr. O’Connell received her undergraduate degree at Grinnell College and her medical and public health training at the University of Washington. After completing residency in family medicine at North Colorado Family Medicine Residency, Dr. O’Connell practiced primary care – including full-scope family medicine – in tribal and underserved communities.

Key Takeaways

  • Dr. O'Connell summarizes her educational and career journeys up to this point.

  • Where Dr. O'Connell's desire to work in the public health sector began.

  • How the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of tribal nations to healthcare issues.

  • The dual degree program that Dr. O'Connell completed at university, and how this gives her a unique perspective of clinical medicine and public health.

  • What Dr. O'Connell's current role consists of.

  • Realizations that Dr. O'Connell has had about the data acquisition process relating to tribal health.

  • Why Dr. O'Connell has been doing a lot of research on tribal public health laws.

  • Dr. O'Connell shares what she believes to be the biggest issue with regard to tribal data.

  • How Dr. O'Connell is working to increase availability of public health data for tribal communities.

  • Without access to data, we will not be able to eliminate health disparities.

  • Why epidemiology is such an important element of Dr. O'Connell's work.

  • Advice from Dr. O'Connell for anyone interested in a public health career.

Listen To This Podcast Episode

Dr. O'Connell's Career Advice to Public Health Students and Graduates

Dr. O'Connell says this is a great time to be entering public health!

"As a clinician, I do think it is valuable to have some experience with clinical medicine. Clinical medicine and public health are closely linked, so having spent time in a clinic or hospital or nursing home can be vey useful when you are developing programs based on information coming from these settings or that will be implemented in these settings."
"Make health equity central to everything you do. I believe that good public health services are essential to achieving health equity in this country, but we have to make health equity a primary goal of our efforts. If you are working to end health inequalities by improving the health of those most impacted by poor health services, you will improve the health of everyone."

Great Plains Tribal Tribal Epidemiology Center

On this episode, you’ll learn about the Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center (GPTEC), which is just one of 12 partner Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TECs) funded by the Indian Health Service’s Division of Epidemiology and Disease Prevention to assist in improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the United States.

PHEC Podcast Episode #137

Tribal Epidemiology Centers

Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TEC) are Indian Health Service (IHS), division funded organizations who serve American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) Tribal and urban communities by managing public health information systems, investigating diseases of concern, managing disease prevention and control programs, responding to public health emergencies, and coordinating these activities with other public health authorities.

Tribal Epidemiology Centers provide various types of support and services due to the variation of the TECs organization structure, divisions, Tribal populations, and their mission and goals. There are currently 12 Tribal Epidemiology Centers in the United States.

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