Fighting on the Health Front

Julie Pavlin, MD, has a short, unofficial title at The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF), and a longer, official one. “In general, senior clinical investigator,” she said. “More officially, research area director for emerging infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance (EIDAR); and deputy research area director for HIV at the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program (IDCRP), which is part of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU).” Pavlin is also a veteran of the United States Army. She served for 21 years on active duty and for 3 years in the Army Reserve, retiring as a colonel. The IDCRP was founded in 2005 under an agreement between the USU and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The work of the program, executed through a clinical research network, has a direct impact on force readiness by advancing clinical practice and informing health policy for military personnel. In collaboration with partners from the Department of Defense (DoD), academia, government, and industry, IDCRP supports a clinical research portfolio within the Military Health System. From observational, longitudinal cohort studies to field-based interventional trials to evaluation of the long-term health outcomes, IDCRP conducts protocols that address critical knowledge gaps in the control and prevention of infectious diseases in the military. Pavlin’s responsibilities? “I coordinate the research projects in the EIDAR area – which include contingency studies in case there are cases of emerging diseases such as Ebola or MERS-Coronavirus or a new outbreak strain of influenza,” she said. “For HIV, we run the Natural History Study – which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary next year – where we follow HIV-infected military and beneficiaries to mitigate complications of HIV and HIV treatment, improve treatment outcomes and management of disease, and prevent new infections.” Pavlin started working at HJF in 2011, after she retired. “I originally was hired through HJF to be the deputy director of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC),” she said, “and moved to IDCRP in April 2015.” “I was a medical corps officer with training in preventive medicine, public health, and virology. I worked mostly in the research and education areas. I was at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases early in my career, where I developed new training methods, including satellite broadcasts, to train medical personnel to recognize, prevent, and treat disease agents that could be used in biological terrorism or warfare. “At the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, I developed new health-surveillance systems that would allow public health professionals to have an early indication of a disease outbreak and provide situational awareness to health workers to help detect, prevent, and control diseases. I also worked with the Department of Defense’s Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System (GEIS) to help set up disease-surveillance programs internationally with foreign partners for respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, sexually transmitted infections and febrile and vector-borne diseases like malaria. “I then worked at the Army laboratory (Armed Forces Research Institute for Medical Sciences) in Bangkok, Thailand, doing more GEIS work, and then I also was – and still am – an associate professor at USU.” Pavlin likes that she is able to continue the work she started in the military. “It’s a little easier for someone with my educational background (MD, PhD, MPH) to find civilian opportunities that relate to what I did in the military,” she said. “However, specifically, the military gave me opportunities in global health and emerging infectious diseases – at the laboratories in the U.S. and overseas – that directly shaped my experiences in infectious-disease research and surveillance. I interacted with many other federal, state, and local governments in public health – and still work with them today. So it was a natural fit when I retired to work at HJF – which was helping AFHSC, whose mission is to provide health-surveillance information to promote, maintain, and enhance the health of military and military-associated populations.” ###ADVICE FOR SERVICEMEMBERS / VETERANS She encourages active-duty servicemembers with medical backgrounds to explore every education opportunity they can while still in the military. “Anyone in the medical field – whether a nurse, doctor, medic, lab technician, X-ray tech, etc. – absolutely, positively take advantage of the educational opportunities that the military can offer you,” she said. “Not just undergraduate and graduate programs, but technical and other programs that will advance you in the field. Those certifications have a direct correlation with what is needed in the civilian side in getting jobs in the same career field. “The required certifications aren’t made up by the military. They are mandated through federal and state licensing boards. So you’ll already have those done and ready when you start your civilian job search.” Servicemembers should also take advantage of opportunities to work with other entities. “I learned a lot of management skills, including working in international environments and how to partner with federal, local, and foreign governments,” said Pavlin. “In my current job, we are a partnership with the National Institutes of Health - working together to find better treatment and prevention for infectious diseases that particularly affect the military. Every agency is very different in how they operate, and being able to understand that and navigate these differences helps tremendously.” Pavlin has also found that the military’s can-do attitude leads to success in the civilian workplace. “It makes me think about a prior boss who transitioned to a civilian position after retirement,” she said. “He told me that he was amazed how different things were – because people who worked for him would complain that they didn’t want to do a certain job or work with a certain person, etc., and that in the military, you saluted and moved on and got the job done. I think that attitude always helps. You may not like certain parts of your job or how things need to get done, but you can get it done and become a very valued member of the team. That’s not to say you can't provide suggestions on how to do it better, but the right attitude will help every time.” According to Pavlin, the mission of HJF should appeal to veterans who want to continue to serve their country and their fellow servicemembers. “HJF’s mission is to advance military medicine – to help improve the ability to care for those in harm’s way through a variety of programs – and doing so directly affects the lives of all veterans,” she said. “So working for this organization, you are helping all of DoD and veterans to get better health outcomes.” She encourages veterans with diverse backgrounds to consider her organization as a place to work. “We don't just need people with technical or clinical backgrounds. We need strong resource managers, logisticians, program managers, site managers, information technologists, etc. – people with knowledge of how the military works, who know the people, the system, and yes, the bureaucracy, and have a strong desire to help improve the health of servicemembers and veterans worldwide.” Pavlin encourages servicemembers and veterans to be aggressive when they start looking for civilian careers. “Highlight the training and experiences you have when looking at positions,” she said. “Even if you don’t have requisite training, use your experiences to say you can do the job while you pursue training. Some places will even offer to send you for training. “And look at jobs a level below what you want, and consider taking that at an organization that you know has the kinds of positions you want, and get the experience there and pursue outside training if needed and grow in that organization. It’s always easier to find a job when you have a job. Don’t let your skills and experience stagnate. Do anything that gives you even more experience that will make you just that much more competitive with your next job search.”