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USU Alumna Making an Impact on Community, Global Health

a woman in military uniform looks at a monkey

By Sarah Marshall

Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Gambino-Shirley became a public health officer because she wanted to find new ways to focus on real-world solutions to health problems. Today, thanks to opportunities provided by the military and by pursuing her Master of Public Health degree at Uniformed Services University (USU), her efforts have been making an impact on the overall health of a community.

A 2007 graduate of USU’s MPH program, Gambino-Shirley is now serving as the chief of the Epidemiology Consult Service division at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) in Dayton, Ohio. USAFSAM provides opportunities to engage with other military services, and state and international partners in the field of public health and infectious disease medicine. In this role, Gambino-Shirley routinely helps conduct disease surveillance for the Air Force, monitoring for outbreaks and unusual events. She also helps provide epidemiological consulting services, while responding to questions from Congress, the Air Force Medical Service, other major commands and other agencies.

a group of people in military uniform look for something in grass
Doctors conduct field studies of possible virus-carrying wildlife and insects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released)  
Additionally, at USAFSAM, she’s working to support the Residency in Aerospace Medicine program and graduate students in public health from the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), and at USU, the Ohio State University, and Wright State University, by providing mentorship, training, and data sharing. She’s also helping to teach epidemiology course material to new public health officers and AFIT students.

Earlier this summer, Gambino-Shirley had a chance to bring her expertise to Panama, where she was invited to participate in an infectious disease training. The engagement was part of a week-long joint training exercise, New Horizons, which annually brings military members together to conduct training in civil engineer, medical and support services, while simultaneously benefiting the local community. During New Horizons, Gambino-Shirley supported efforts to monitor the monkey population for signs of yellow fever, which was part of the surveillance activities in the Darien Province. She checked a monkey’s vital signs and drew blood, which would be tested for yellow fever as well as other viruses to which they are susceptible.

Gambino-Shirley has had many opportunities like this one to make an impact, which she attributes to the military. The Air Force, she said, also provided her the chance to pursue her MPH, and then to serve with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Epidemic Intelligence Service fellowship.

doctors look at a monkey
Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen
“It was an amazing experience to work with seasoned public health mentors to protect and serve our country,” she said, of her time at the CDC.

Prior to joining the Air Force in 2002, Gambino-Shirley earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It is a challenging career field, but to see these efforts making a positive impact on the overall health of a community is rewarding,” she said. “Pursuing my MPH provided me with the tools and skills to truly make a difference.”