Lilly Kan, MPH ’07
Outstanding Recent Graduate Award
Senior Director of Infectious Diseases and Informatics, National Association of County and City Health Officials
Lilly Kan is the senior director of Infectious Diseases and Informatics at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the nonprofit membership organization for the 2,800 local health departments across the U.S. She is a leading expert in how antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) impact public health at the local level. In 2011, Kan conducted a first-of-its-kind needs assessment of local health departments’ engagement in HAI prevention, surveillance and response, barriers to primary HAI prevention, and facilitators to local health departments’ involvement in expanding national and state HAI prevention activities.
Prior to working with NACCHO, Kan served as a post-baccalaureate intramural research training fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her research has been published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and Pediatrics. Since 2001, Kan has also operated planetarium shows at the Maryland Science Center.
Who were your most important mentors?
My most important mentor was Daniel Salmon, who is also an Outstanding Recent Graduate Award recipient from 2013. I first met Dan when I called him to inquire about a student work study opportunity on developing a pandemic influenza ethics training module. Dan hired me and subsequently gave me other opportunities, even after I graduated, to support projects on vaccine safety and information. One opportunity led to authorship on a published article in a Pediatrics journal supplement.
I also took the Vaccine Policy Issues course that Dan co-instructed with Orin Levine. That course introduced me to the topic of pandemic influenza vaccine policy, which later became the focus of my capstone project. Dan served as the advisor for my capstone project.
Dan served as a reference when I applied for a position at the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), where I still work today. He shared extremely thoughtful and helpful perspectives when I asked him about negotiating salary and a start date. After I began working at NACCHO, I had opportunities to interact with Dan on vaccine safety matters. He continued to provide me with valuable insight on the state of affairs in this field.
Among the numerous ways in which Dan has supported my academic and professional development, I have most deeply appreciated his approachability and encouragement. These qualities instilled in me the belief and confidence that I could make meaningful contributions to the field of public health. I rely greatly on these qualities as I supervise and mentor people now.
What did you do to relax and have fun as a student?
My roommate in Baltimore was a fellow classmate. We were lucky to have known each other before entering the MPH program. Together, we established a wonderful collection of friends – most of whom were in our program and remain dear friends or colleagues today. Much of my time with them outside of the classroom involved having dinner, hosting or attending social gatherings, running, and playing ultimate Frisbee.
I also spent time running shows and doing presentations about the night sky in the planetarium at the Maryland Science Center. Growing up in Baltimore, I always enjoyed going to this museum so started working in the planetarium one summer while home from college and have kept it ever since. Spending time at the museum has been a great way for me to remain engaged in areas of science that I find fascinating but have not pursued professionally.
How did your degree and time at JHSPH influence your career?
My degree and time at JHSPH heavily influenced my career. Benjamin Schwartz was the Vaccine Policy Issues course speaker who lectured and sparked the interest in pandemic influenza vaccine policy that led me to centering my capstone project on the topic. At the end of his presentation, Ben offered an opportunity for interested students to attend and serve as note-takers at a stakeholder meeting in Washington, D.C. on pandemic vaccine prioritization. I attended the meeting and, as a result of understaffing, facilitated a small group discussion on the topic. Six months later, while applying for a NACCHO position as a new graduate, I realized that NACCHO had co-hosted the meeting. This connection enabled me to express more concretely my interest in and fit with NACCHO. About two and a half years after I started working at NACCHO, the H1N1 influenza pandemic occurred and demonstrated the real-life challenges of pandemic vaccine prioritization and distribution that I had explored as a student. The experience of supporting local health departments in preventing, preparing for and responding to H1N1 pandemic influenza has left me more experienced and better equipped to support these agencies in managing other emerging infectious disease threats, such as Ebola and Zika. Overseeing efforts that better equip local health departments in these areas are key components of my current role at NACCHO as the Senior Director for Infectious Disease and Informatics.
What do you consider your most important accomplishments?
My most important professional accomplishment has been working at an organization (NACCHO) in roles that have enabled me to support the nation’s approximately 2,800 local health departments in preventing and controlling infectious diseases. This support has included (1) sharing critical and timely information to local health departments on rapidly evolving situations; (2) connecting local health departments with CDC and other entities to help align local, state, and federal efforts involved in addressing outbreak responses; and (3) providing funding and other resources to help these agencies better perform the essential public health services. My position at NACCHO has evolved from directly providing this support to guiding a team of smart, dedicated, and driven staff in doing so. Enabling these colleagues to most effectively apply their expertise and skills in this work has been extremely rewarding as well.
Two personal accomplishments underlie my ability to pursue and achieve professional goals – obtaining my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree and running marathons. Advancing through and completing the MPH program taught me to me how I could navigate a field of health challenges, approaches, and opportunities different from my prior path of basic science research. Training for and completing marathons enabled me to develop the dedication, discipline, and decision-making that is necessary to keep going or take a break, especially during the most trying moments
Ten years from now, where do you hope to be and what do you hope to be doing?
Ten years ago, I was one month away from beginning the MPH program. At the time, I had no specific idea of where I hoped to be or what I hoped to be doing. However, I knew that I wanted to make a substantial and meaningful difference in health, lives, and infectious diseases. I also had a strong sense of what I wanted to learn in research, policy, and practice. Applying those interests and questions in all of my actions and efforts over the past 10 years had led me to my current role. I am grateful to say I am doing exactly what I want to be doing and am where I want to be in my public health career right now. In fact, I am doing more than what I could have imagined 10 years ago. Knowing just enough of what I want to explore is the approach I intend to take over the next ten years. Ten years from now, I hope to continue working in some aspect of infectious disease, strengthening the ways in which public health and health care intersect to improve lives, and becoming more of an expert in my area of work. I also look forward to continue mentoring people because of how much more I can achieve with them than on my own. Earning another advanced degree (e.g., doctorate) could be in my future as well.
What is your advice to people who are considering a career in public health?
The following three things come to mind for people to do as they consider careers in public health:
- Be curious. People have fascinating experiences and stories about how public health became their profession. As you consider a career in public health, I urge you to explore as much as possible and be curious about the myriad of topics and opportunities you encounter in this field. Any interaction with someone in the field could lead to the inspiration, collaboration, job, or other opportunity that enables you to do valuable work and drives your career in public health.
- Be passionate. The public health field is full of people who are fueled by their interests and desire to help people by improving their health and well-being. Exploring and pursuing these interests with fervor helps to both determine what will drive you and galvanize your efforts, good work, and success.
- Be realistic. Rooted in the opportunities that public health careers offer are significant needs and obstacles to improving the health and well-being of people. Better understanding, acknowledging, and respecting those challenges can enable you to better work through and overcome them.
In your experience since leaving JHSPH, what do you think makes the school unique?
The people – classmates, faculty, and staff – are by far what make JHSPH unique. The intellect and energy that people at JHSPH bring to their interactions and work have inspired me and set examples for how I interact with people in the field. I cannot think of another professor who, like Marie Diener-West, can memorize all the student names in a biostatistics class of over 250 people. Since completing the MPH program at JHSPH, I have had the fortune to work with, learn from, and guide fellow graduates within and beyond my class. These people are my partners, coworkers, staff, and friends. The people that JHSPH that accepts and educates within its programs are what make the school unique. The people who teach them do as well.