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Introducing CDC’s New Director of Public Health Preparedness and Response

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Dr. Stephen Redd director of CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

Meet Rear Admiral Stephen C. Redd, MD, the new director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. Dr. Redd is a Rear Admiral and Assistant to the Surgeon General in the United States Public Health Service. He comes to CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) from CDC’s Influenza Coordination Division and brings with him the expertise and experience of working at CDC for nearly 30 years and serving 29 years in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

In his new role, Dr. Redd will be leading OPHPR, which is CDC’s principle coordinator of all preparedness and response activities. PHPR provides strategic direction, support, and coordination for activities across CDC and with local, state, tribal, national, territorial, and international public health partners.

Dr. Redd writing notes while talking to a colleague
Dr. Redd talking with an OPHPR colleague

Dr. Redd joins PHPR at a critical time. CDC is running its largest international emergency response ever – the West Africa Ebola Response – as well as CDC’s global polio response.  Dr. Redd is no stranger to emergency response. He served as the CDC Incident Commander during the H1N1 response and described a Rip Van Winkle moment when he returned from the Emergency Operations Center to his regular office and found a calendar from the year before hanging on the wall. Dr. Redd recently took some time to talk to the Public Health Matters blog and share a little about himself and his work at CDC.

  1. What drew you to public health?

I went to medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, and when I was a second-year student, I learned about the chance to have a summer job at CDC. It was just after the 1980 election, and there was a great deal of concern over the status of the program because of budget cutbacks. Fortunately for me, I received a last-minute acceptance.

  1. How did you start your career at CDC?

After I completed my medical residency at Johns Hopkins, I returned to CDC for a two-year program as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer in CDC’s Bacterial Diseases division. My plan was to return to academic medicine and complete an infectious disease fellowship, but instead I ended up staying for a third year after EIS when my girlfriend at the time (now wife) decided to move from California, where she was completing her residency in radiology, to Atlanta for a two-year fellowship. I stayed in the Bacterial Diseases program for a third year, which besides being a great job, allowed us to synch up our training. I am now about to celebrate my 30th year at CDC and my 28th wedding anniversary. I think it is safe to say staying here was the right decision.

  1. What previous role(s) have you held at CDC?
Dr. Redd serving as incident commander during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.
Dr. Redd serving as incident commander during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.

As I mentioned, I was an EIS officer, which was a challenging job but also provided me with many significant opportunities, including traveling to Senegal to assess the feasibility of conducting a pneumococcal vaccine trial in Dakar. I had never been to a developing country, and it was eye-opening, to say the least.

After that experience, I took a job in the International Health Program Office, which has developed into what is today known as the Center for Global Health.

In the International Health Program Office, I worked on childhood survival projects for 3 years in Africa, first on the control of acute respiratory infections and later in malaria. I have also worked on measles control, asthma control, and air pollution epidemiology.

The last job I had before coming to PHPR was as the director of the Influenza Coordination Center. In this position, I had the opportunity to work with leaders in a number of Centers at CDC and lead a very intense planning and exercise program. The work I did in the Influenza Coordination Unit helped prepare me for the most influential role I have held to date, being incident commander during the H1N1 response.

  1. What has impressed you most about OPHPR so far? What are you most excited about in your new role?

The pace and the variety of issues have surprised me. Even though I have worked with PHPR for many years as director of the Influenza Coordination Division and even served as Acting Deputy Director for 3 months last year, I am still surprised with the speed and variety of work that gets done within PHPR.

I am also impressed with the PHPR staff. They are fantastic and have shown me tons of support. A team spirit or an esprit de corps is very evident. It’s always better to work in a place where the people know they’re doing important, urgent work than a place where that’s not the case.

  1. What are your priorities for OPHPR?
Dr. Redd addressing OPHPR
Dr. Redd’s first division-wide address to OPHPR

Our current and most urgent priority within OPHPR is to get to zero Ebola cases in West Africa. Our office has already done so much great work in contributing to this agency-wide goal, but there is still work to be done in this area. My second priority is measuring the impact of our programs and developing measures to assess our preparedness. This type of assessment is critical as we chart our way forward and prioritize resources. In addition to immediate responses and the measuring impact, as a third priority, OPHPR must continually strive to improve the work we do with our partners as a way to improve our future responses.

  1. What is the most important emergency preparedness lesson you have learned?

Be flexible, try to be clear about what you know and don’t know, and remember that you can’t know the future. You also need to find time to stay grounded by spending time with family and friends and keeping yourself “in shape” for the fast-paced nature of emergency response. That’s why I try to run or swim every morning and take breaks to go fishing with my daughter, who is a senior at the same high school I attended here in Atlanta. A response like H1N1 or Ebola is a marathon, although there are times when you have to sprint. It’s important to do what you have to do to stay ready mentally and physically for those times when sprints are required.

OPHPR: Health Security in Action

This post is part of a series designed to profile programs from CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

You can follow Dr. Redd on Twitter at @DrReddCDC

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4 comments on “Introducing CDC’s New Director of Public Health Preparedness and Response”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    GLAD TO KNOW SUCH A WELL ROUNDED LEADER, WHO ALSO SEEMS GROUNDED WITH FAMILY AND THE REALITIES OF LEADING A BALANCED LIFE. HIS EXPERIENCE IS SPECTACULAR- WILL LOOK FOREWARD TO LEARNING FROM YOU, SIR

    Very pleased to know that Dr. Redd has such extensive experience, and is so devoted to the work of the CDC. Looking forward to meeting him at the upcoming PHP Summit!

    Welcome aboard, Admiral. Look forward to reading your advice, thoughts and ideas. From COL (RET) Jayne H. Cooley AN USAR

    It is a honor to read about your history and new assignment with US PHS, CDC Admral Redd. Your knowledge, skills and abilities along with how important you have prepared yourself during you career and life is valued. I want to thank you for sharing your views and experiences. Congratulations !

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