CDC officer provides healthy doses of information and inspiration
Pharmacist leads the agency’s fight against infectious diseases at MIA
Lt. Commander (LCDR) Meron Tsige’s blend of global experiences and passion for the health sciences have served as the perfect ingredients for her role as the Officer in Charge of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Miami Quarantine Station. Born and raised in Kenya to Ethiopian parents, fluent in Amharic, French, and Swahili, and educated with a Doctor of Pharmacy and a Master of Public Health from the University of Maryland, LCDR Tsige is just the right prescription for leading the CDC’s efforts in the southeast U.S. from the Quarantine Station based at Miami International Airport – one of only 20 stations total.
As MIA’s celebration of Women’s History Month continues, LCDR Tisge shares about her mission to protect travelers from infectious diseases and how she wants to provide doses of inspiration to the next generation as well.
What is your role at MIA? I’m the Officer in Charge of CDC’s Miami Quarantine Station, which means that I oversee a dedicated team of public health experts who work 24/7 to protect the U.S. from public health threats by preventing the introduction, transmission, and spread of infectious diseases into the U.S. in a globally mobile world. My area of responsibility includes over 52 ports of entry by air and sea in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. We also regulate the U.S. entry of animals and restrict animal products, prepare for emergency responses, and respond with lifesaving drugs on the next available flights to patients suffering from malaria, botulism, or diphtheria. Partnership and active engagement with other federal agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, local health departments, medical officers and other clinicians, airlines, and cruise lines are also major focuses of my responsibility that allows us to meet our mission.
What do you like most about your job? Hands down, the people. I relocated from Washington, D.C. and Miami has truly welcomed me with open arms. Everyone from the MIA leadership, airlines partners, port partners, and the local health department, to my own CDC leadership and staff have been an absolute pleasure to work with. The level of engagement and commitment here at MIA is second to none. If there’s a problem, I can pick up the phone and call on CBP, an airline, or any other entity for that matter and get an almost immediate response. MIA is one of the busiest airports in the nation. We go back and forth with JFK with a slight difference in international passenger headcount, which makes the scale of our work much more impactful in terms of infectious disease control and mitigation strategies.
What got you interested in your field? I’m a pharmacist with a public health background. Public health, specifically global health, is my passion. That’s my WHY. This stems, I believe, partly from the fact that I’ve always been strong in the sciences, my family background, extensive travel exposure from an early age, and a deep desire to improve health outcomes of underserved and vulnerable populations globally.
Tell us something that people may not know about you. [Laughing] One thing people don’t know about me is that I’m an introvert. Yes, I know. That may come as a surprise to some because I’m outgoing and gregarious when people see me at large meetings, but I’m much more comfortable with one-on-one settings compared to larger groups.
What makes you most proud of being a woman in the aviation industry? Due to my position with the CDC, I have high visibility during airport stakeholder meetings. I’ve had situations where folks would stop me after meetings, or even when they see me walking to my car to tell me how proud they are and how inspired they are when they see me, a woman, a young black woman, sitting at that leadership table. Personally, beyond the aviation industry, as a mother of two young girls, I’m conscious of the example I’m setting as an ambitious working woman. If I’m able to inspire or encourage one girl or one woman to unapologetically pursue her dreams/goals and show her what’s possible with hard work, determination, and that belief in oneself, then in my own small way, I believe I’ve positively contributed towards the betterment of society. It’s honestly a very humbling experience. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have incredibly inspiring women all around me and consider it a privilege and duty to pay it forward.
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