Amy Xie '12 is finishing up her first year of service with the Centers for Disease Control. (photo provided by Amy Xie)


Public health career reflects ’12 alum’s sense of self

Amy Xie, MD, a Centers for Disease Control-based Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the United States Public Health Service, stepped to the podium at the CDC’s annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference. Hundreds of people were seated before her in the venue – “the biggest audience that I have been put in front of to speak,” says the 2012 graduate of NCSSM-Durham – but she couldn’t see them. The bright lights focused on her were blinding. And she was sweating.

The EIS conference, held each spring, is the nation’s premier applied epidemiology conference where leading EIS officers present their work on public health initiatives to fellow public health professionals as well as the public. Just one year prior, Xie had attended the EIS conference virtually during her last year of medical school residency in internal medicine. It left an impression on her. The speakers were impressive, their research and investigations into public health issues unique and groundbreaking.

“They were so smart and so well-spoken and their presentations were so good,” Xie says, “and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get to where they are. I’ll be happy if I make it halfway there.’”

Yet one year later there she was, dressed in her dark-blue U.S. Public Health Service uniform, presenting work.

“It felt,” she said, “like a full circle moment.”

The structure of healthcare

The circle started at Wake Forest University, where Xie was a Gordon Scholar on a full academic scholarship. With the scholarship came independent summer research projects of her own design. She was well-prepared for the task. While at NCSSM, Xie had participated in the Research in Chemistry program, and had, as a Conrad Scholar, flown with her research project aboard NASA’s famous “Vomit Comet,” an aircraft which simulates microgravity through parabolic flights.

An introductory class on naturopathic versus traditional or Western medicine had intrigued Xie early on at WFU so much that each successive summer research project reflected more and more her growing interests in medicine and public health. By the time she was a junior, she had decided on applying to medical school.

Xie’s research at NCSSM-Durham led to a micro-gravity flight aboard a NASA aircraft. (photo provided by Amy Xie)

At The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Xie spent Monday evenings at a student-organized free clinic in Columbus serving uninsured or underinsured patients. It transformed her understanding of healthcare in America. “I saw some of the barriers that these patients were up against,” Xie says, “and I realized that, were I in their shoes, I would not be able to overcome those barriers either. I came to understand that it’s often the structure around healthcare that leads to so many health issues for patients. That’s when the lightbulb flipped on.”

A summer job with the CDC continued Xie’s path toward public health, but it was a two-month rotation in the Epidemiology Elective Program at the CDC in her fourth year of med school that set her public-health focus in stone. She arrived for the program at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta in 2020 to find that the project she was to work on had been canceled due to the intensifying COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Because the CDC needed every person they could get to work on it, Xie was offered – and accepted – the chance to do contact tracing work in Arizona.

“I saw that, in the face of so many unknowns, the medical officer and the EIS office I was deployed with were able to use their medical knowledge and knowledge of what was going on in the world at the time to organize efforts and make decisions,” Xie says. “That was so admirable to me. I knew from that experience that public health was something I wanted to do after residency.”


Xie is now coming up on the end of her first year of a two-year fellowship with the CDC. Though the U.S. Public Health Service is her actual employer, the Service works closely with a number of other agencies, often assigning Health Service resources to those agencies to help address public health issues in the United States. 

It was at a bootcamp for new Public Health Service officers that Xie first donned her uniform. She turned to a mirror to make sure everything was right and was met not with a sense of pride in her accomplishment, but with something even deeper. 

“It was less about personal achievement, and more about the physical manifestation of my interests and my desire to serve others and make things better,” Xie says. “Who I am and what I do in my work life had finally merged into one and the same.”