Alumna says medical education made her “uniquely” prepared
By Elaine Zeinner
Photography by Braxton Bruce
Angela Dunn, M.D. ’10
ngela Dunn, M.D. ’10, traces her passionate interest in health equity to her days researching how care provided in childcare centers varied based on where the center was located. She found similar disparities during her time training at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital.
“I’ll never forget one young man I cared for during my training,” Dr. Dunn recalled. “He had been in and out of the emergency room with cancer — cancer that was curable. He couldn’t get in to see an oncologist for treatment because he didn’t have insurance. That experience was eye-opening. It solidified my interest to go into public health and policy.”
It’s no surprise that Dr. Dunn now serves as the state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health. It’s a role she feels uniquely trained and prepared for, thanks to her time at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine and subsequent fellowships, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There, she served as an epidemic intelligence service officer and was the first CDC physician to arrive in Sierra Leone during the country’s Ebola outbreak. Her experience in Sierra Leone now translates well to her fight against COVID-19.
Leading her state’s COVID-19 response
Dr. Dunn is confident her education, training, and experience help her protect the health of Utah’s residents as the state’s top public health official. Still, she admits that COVID-19’s unknowns create tremendous responsibility and opportunity.
“A pandemic is something people in my position have trained for,” Dr. Dunn said. “We deal with outbreaks all the time. Typically, it’s with viruses we know how to respond to. That’s why, in one sense, it’s really exciting to me to be the state epidemiologist for a once-in-a-century pandemic and feel like I can impact the trajectory of health in our community.”
And she has made an impact. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Dunn has worked hard to communicate what she knows — and what she doesn’t — to the public. That meant daily press conferences in the first days of the virus arriving in the state.
“We didn’t have a lot of information at the beginning,” she said. “We were constantly learning every single day, and I wanted to be transparent about that.”
As an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Dunn is comfortable dealing with unknowns. But she wasn’t prepared for the social impact of COVID-19. Protestors unhappy with the mask mandate staged protests in front of her house, a home she shares with her husband and two young children.
“I definitely had days where I questioned whether I should still be doing this job,” she recalls.
Fortunately, her neighbors helped her answer that question. Among the many ways they showed their support, they lined their street and homes with signs that read, “We stand with Dr. Angela Dunn.”
“Seeing those rows of signs gave me a sense of pride,” she said. “It was also very humbling knowing I had the backing of my community.”
The long game in public health
Dr. Dunn continues to fight for the health and wellness of Utah residents — including at-risk populations and communities that face the biggest barriers to accessing high-quality health care, such as communities of color, rural populations, and the disadvantaged.
“It is our job as government public health officials to get everyone the vaccine and care they need — for any illness or chronic condition,” she said. “We work with community leaders to better understand the needs in their neighborhoods and rely on them to share our message and information. The public wants to hear what they need to do or should do from a government official. They want to hear that advice from a trusted member of their own community.”
“That’s the reason I went into public health — to give a voice to those that society otherwise ignores,” she said.