How One Veterinarian and Epidemiologist Is Setting a Course for the Public Health Workers of Tomorrow

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou has had a long and distinguished career—from her start at 16 working in a veterinarian’s office; to working on diseases including malaria, AIDS and SARS at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); to creating the Pappaioanou Veterinary Public Health and Applied Epidemiology Award with the CDC Foundation to help bring other young veterinarians into the public health work force. Having been supported by a truly multidisciplinary group of educators and coworkers throughout her journey in public health, she is now giving back in a way that will guide the journeys of the public health champions to come.

Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Pappioanou (DVM, MPVM, PhD, DACVPM, EIS ’83) knew by the seventh grade that she wanted to be a veterinarian. At 16, she began her first paying job at a veterinarian’s office, where she served as a receptionist, kennel worker, surgical assistant and many more “other duties as assigned.” From there she naturally segued into a veterinary program at Michigan State University…where she was pointed in a formative direction.

From Veterinary School to CDC

Dr. Jeff Williams, Pappioanou’s parasitology professor at MSU, shared with her that he had worked for WHO/PAHO at the then "Zoonoses Control Center" in Buenos Aires. Suddenly her eyes were opened to the possibility of helping people through keeping animals healthy—while also working internationally. Though she was immediately sold on the concept, she was warned that she would need more school, so she graduated and worked in clinical practice for three years to save money. During this time she traveled to Greece and Egypt, where she was asked to stay and help address an outbreak of schistosomiasis, a zoonotic disease. This reinforced to Pappioanou that she needed more training, so she returned to the United States, and on the advice of her influential parasitology professor decided to go to UC Davis for a Masters of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degree (MPVM).

At UC Davis, she met another influential professor who would guide her next steps: Calvin Schwabe, the author of the book Veterinary Medicine and Human Health and one of the world experts in hydatid disease, and who helped her see the universe of connections between human and animal health. Hydatid disease is a serious parasitic disease of humans infected with the parasite Echinococcus granulosus, which has a life cycle between dogs and sheet and infects humans through exposure to parasite eggs carried by dogs. For many years, the only treatment for hydatid disease was surgery. Though it was thought that E. granulosus did not infect animals or humans in the United States, in Pappioanou’s MPVM thesis she identified cases of hydatid disease in people in the United States who had never traveled. Impressed with this research, Dr. Schwabe asked if she was interested in getting a PhD in epidemiology and parasitology…and she said yes, ultimately defending epidemiology, parasitology and medical statistics for her degree.

Dr. Pappioanou meets a group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, 2015

Hiking in Washington state, 2021

While finishing her PhD in Cyprus, she learned of the storied Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) program at CDC, which solidified her desire to work on the front lines of public health. She was accepted to EIS in the malaria branch at CDC, where she completed field research in Africa evaluating the effectiveness of treatment antimalarials in national malaria programs, and where she helped design randomized blinded control trials for studying malaria antigens that were candidates for malaria vaccines. After four years in the malaria branch, she moved to the AIDS Program where she helped design and direct the Family of HIV Seroprevalence Surveys and assisted in establishing the HIV Seroepidemiology Branch, becoming the new Branch's first associate director for science. In later years she helped design and directed the USAID funded "Data for Decision Making Program" paper and helped design and form the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force, leading the CDC team that supported the Task Force in its development of the Guide to Community Preventive Services. She then returned to the Office of Global Health as its Associate Director for Science and Policy where she helped coordinate and work on CDC's response to SARS and Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza outbreaks. Pappioanou spent her last three years on staff with CDC as the CDC Liaison to FDA for Food Safety.

“Many of these positions did not directly involve animals, but in all I used my comparative medical background and clinical knowledge in the conduct of my work,” Pappioanou noted, crediting three scientists from her early career who had inspired her to embrace a multidisciplinary approach to public health: Dr. Schwabe, Dr. Williams and Dr. Peter Schantz at CDC.

Reflecting Back on the Past…and Looking Ahead to the Future of Public Health

Some of the proudest moments in her career, Pappioanou said, include helping to establish the Task Force on Community Preventive Services and subsequently leading the team that developed the methods and launched The Guide to Community Preventive Services, as well as leading the Family of HIV Seroepidemiolgy Surveys and contributing to the conduct of randomized controlled trials for malaria vaccine antigens. She added that she has been very fortunate to have many opportunities to work on important projects with incredibly smart and passionate colleagues along the way, including physicians, other veterinarians, nurses, statisticians, economists, social and behavioral scientists, public health advisors and others, saying, “The multidisciplinary environment at CDC, with its continued focus on achieving best public health outcomes and impact, is very special and not easily found elsewhere.”

After retiring from CDC, Marguerite continued her robust schedule of activities, including working with colleagues to educate students at the Center for One Health Research at the University of Washington School of Public Health and volunteering as a member of the Puget Sound Environmental Monitoring Program Steering Committee.

Veterinary knowledge, expertise, and perspective is essential for best public health action, especially in today's world...Veterinarians working in public health, across the full spectrum of public health, will help achieve the best health for people, animals and our environment.

In 2013, in collaboration with the CDC Foundation, Marguerite created a named fund to support what was originally known as the Pappaioanou Veterinary Public Health and Applied Epidemiology Fellowship. Her goal was to help bring young veterinarians into the public health workforce, much as she had once done. “In my work with the CDC Foundation over the years,” she explained, “I came to understand and believe that working in partnership with the CDC Foundation would be the most effective and best way to go.”

Pappioanou continued, “Veterinary knowledge, expertise and perspective is essential for best public health action, especially in today's world with emerging zoonotic infectious diseases and pandemics emanating from pathogens in reservoir animal hosts as continual threats. Veterinarians working in public health, across the full spectrum of public health, will help achieve the best health for people, animals and our environment. Their comparative medical training and fundamental understanding of the connections between animals and human and environmental health are unique. Veterinarians are essential to help bridge the gaps!”

The named fund Pappioanou created is now supporting the Pappaioanou Veterinary Public Health and Applied Epidemiology Award, and the original fund has now reached the threshold to be considered an endowed fund—which will allow it to support veterinarians going into the future. “That the award is now endowed gives me peace of mind in that there is a future for supporting veterinarians interested in public health careers to have opportunities to spend time at CDC and meet and work with CDC staff,” she said.

Pappioanou herself has supported her endowment in many ways, including through gifts of stock. She explained that her financial advisor told her that this would be the best way to contribute for her particular financial situation. Ever adaptable in her financial commitment to the fund, Marguerite also noted that “now that I am having required minimum distributions on IRA accounts, I will be making cash contributions via checks directly from one or more of my IRAs.”

And Pappioanou’s dedication to supporting public health does not end with her endowed fund. She is also among the founding members of the Healthy Futures Society, an honorary group recognizing individuals and families that have included the CDC Foundation in their will or other estate plans. Explaining her decision, she said, “Over the years I saw several programs offering significant financial support to MDs considering public health careers, but there are few programs supporting veterinarians. I came to believe that corporate sponsors would not be providing essential support, and that it would have to be one or more public health veterinarians putting their own money up to create a fund to lend financial support to veterinarians potentially interested in public health careers.”

For anyone who is themselves considering creating a named or endowed fund, or leaving a legacy gift, Pappioanou had this advice: “Having and articulating a vision of how the proposed fund would support CDC and its mission and the mission of the Foundation are essential. Building up a solid tranche of funds to launch a fund is essential. Working in true partnership with the Foundation is essential, so working to build and nurture those relationships is a must.”

Pappioanou’s career path from veterinary science to public health left an indelible mark on both herself and the field, and through her giving choices she has laid the groundwork for others to follow in her footsteps. In her own words: “I fervently believe that the perspective and expertise of veterinarians are an essential component of the U.S. Public Health workforce and best protection of the nation's health.”

 

Dr. Pappioanou in Rwanda, 2015

Dr. Pappioanou in Rwanda, 2015

 


 

Donate now to the Pappioanou Veterinary Public Health and Applied Epidemiology Award. For more information, please contact Helene Erenberg at herenberg@cdcfoundation.org.