The Gilstrap Fellowship: Caring for Patients, Supporting Public Health

The White House recently announced the Initiative on Women’s Health Research to increase investment in women’s health and train leaders in this area. The initiative recognizes that building a public health workforce with both a clinical knowledge base and an ability to lead public health projects is vital to saving and improving the lives of pregnant people.

Supported by the CDC Foundation, the Gilstrap Fellowship provides obstetricians and gynecologists with unique public health training, focusing on infectious diseases in reproductive health. Obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) is a distinctive area of medicine considered both primary and specialty care. As obstetricians, we care for multiple patients simultaneously, balancing each individual’s need. As gynecologists, we treat medical issues with sensitivity to the personal nature of reproductive decisions and the anatomy involved. Though we care for half of the population, our work affects almost everyone. I was originally drawn to becoming an OB/GYN because of the uniqueness of the work and the broad range of skills required.

In early 2022, I was a full-time, practicing OB/GYN, seeing patients in the office, managing labor and delivery, the emergency room and maternity triage and performing surgeries in a practice covering nearly 3000 deliveries per year. While this clinical work was rewarding, I also wondered how I could translate my skills as a physician to improve reproductive and maternal/child healthcare on a greater scale, specifically in public health.

Because our practice also supervised maternity care at the health department, I saw the important role state and local governments played in providing healthcare to underserved populations. Throughout the COVID pandemic, I also saw how heavily the healthcare system relied on the government and public health infrastructure for guidance, funding to support vital access to healthcare and even the manufacturing of Personal Protective Equipment. These efforts inspired me to pursue a career in public health while still using my skills as an OB/GYN. In the summer of 2022, I began the Gilstrap Fellowship.

Through the fellowship, I focused on infectious disease in reproductive health, working with a team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), analyzing pregnancy surveillance data and providing clinical consultation services during emergency responses. Such surveillance provides valuable information about infectious diseases in pregnancy, like syphilis prevalence rates and the risk factors for pregnant people. As a clinical consultant on the mpox emergency response, I held discussions with physicians and health departments about diagnosing and treating pregnant patients with mpox.

Through my work with the Mpox Response Clinical Consultation Team at CDC, established to respond rapidly to clinical calls, I learned just how fast things can move in a public health response. It was inspiring to see how many moving parts worked together to serve the physicians, pharmacists, and healthcare providers caring for patients directly. It turns out emergency response work is a lot like labor and delivery: situations rapidly change, and we adapt as best we can to help save lives.

My diverse experiences in both clinical and public health settings have helped me develop a broad understanding of the crucial role that public health entities play in keeping parents and babies healthy in the United States. While the end of my two-year fellowship is approaching quickly, the Gilstrap Fellowship and CDC Foundation have uniquely positioned me to continue a career as a physician-scientist in maternal and child health, where I can serve both individual patients and the broader population.


The Gilstrap Fellowship starts annually in August. Applicants are encouraged to apply up to a year and half in advance of their anticipated cohort start. To apply for the Gilstrap Fellowship, visit our recruitment page.  

This project was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $592,543 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government.

A woman in a pink shirt smiling for a headshot
Meryl Davis, MD is a Gilstrap OBGYN Fellow at the CDC Foundation.