Building an emergency health response

Dr. Nicole Lurie is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she leads federal efforts in preventing and responding to the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters.

She spoke about her experiences and management philosophy with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. What role are you playing in supporting the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa?

A. We're partnering with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other HHS agencies to ensure that U.S. healthcare providers, hospitals, health clinics, emergency medical services and healthcare coalitions have the information they need to be prepared to identify and treat Ebola infections, in case anyone in the United States becomes sick after traveling from affected countries or from contact with infected individuals.

We're also building on our interagency and industry partners to accelerate the development and testing of vaccines -- and to be prepared to scale up manufacturing if they prove safe and effective.

Q. What led you to a career in public health?

A. I was a rebellious kid, but not your typical rebellion. Instead of going to high school for my last two years, I worked every day with some pediatricians in my community who were involved in a screening program for lead poisoning. So early on, I learned firsthand about the relationship between poverty, housing, education and health, and I dedicated myself to making a difference in urban poverty. I saw that working in health was a way to do that.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.