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Felix sisters

All in the family: Puerto Rican sisters aim to positively address public health issues through the CDC

Felix sisters

Although Suad, Sausan and Alia El Burai Félix (shown left to right in photo) are conducting research in different sectors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sisters all share a passion for improving public health standards. Their assignments are sponsored by the CDC Research Participation Programs, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy. Photo credit: Lauren Felix

There comes a first time for everything—for the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education (ORISE), this is quite possibly the first time three sisters are simultaneously participating in ORISE Research Participation Programs for the same federal agency. ORAU manages ORISE for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Although the Puerto Rican sisters are performing research in different sectors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Suad, Sausan and Alia El Burai Félix all aspire toward the same goal: addressing public health issues by providing efficient prevention and reduction solutions.

An interest that stemmed from serving as a Hispanic-Serving Health Professions Schools trainee at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Atlanta, Suad El Burai Félix knew she wanted to conduct research with the CDC. She was searching for a way to do this when her former supervisor passed along information about ORISE. Soon after, she became the first of her sisters to join the ORISE Research Participation Programs at the CDC in Atlanta.

“I thought it seemed like a great opportunity to gain real-life, hands-on experience in the federal government environment,” Suad El Burai Félix said. “Our mom always has encouraged us to continue growing personally and professionally; every experience helps in some way to improve and build upon your skills. To me, this opportunity represents a step forward in my future career and has given me more enthusiasm.”

In the Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, Suad El Burai Félix centers her research efforts on asthma-related topics through performing statistical analyses using state-based and national surveys. Additionally, she provides technical assistance to state health departments that have an asthma cooperative agreement with the CDC.

Sausan El Burai Félix followed in her twin sister’s footsteps and became the second El Burai Félix sister in the program in November 2012. Along with key staff of CDC’s Prescription Drug Overdose Team and two subject matter experts, she strives to evaluate the successes and challenges of several states’ Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, which are statewide electronic databases that collect designated data on controlled substances. These programs were created to prevent and detect prescription drug misuse and diversion.

“Public health is a field that matters to everyone,” said Sausan El Burai Félix, who is conducting research with the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta. “I relish contributing to humanity with my actions and knowledge of the field, and what better way to do it than through this program? It has provided a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of new knowledge and tasks.”

While Sausan and Suad El Burai Félix’s research focuses on the human aspects of public health, Alia El Burai Félix has a great passion for the environmental health field, and currently she directs her overall efforts in the public health and occupational safety and health fields. “I identify myself with the famous quote that says ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” she said. “It’s great to implement changes and make a difference wherever I go.”

Alia El Burai Félix joined CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in January 2013 and works at the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies (DSHEFS) in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is currently involved in the development of a database that quantifies the levels of noise that workers are exposed to across the United States in various careers and industries. This information helps employees and employers understand whether noise-related health hazards are present in their workplace and it also provides ways to reduce and prevent work-related illness. Alia El Burai Félix is also analyzing data collected from a survey sent to participants in NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Programto gain feedback from fire departments around the country about the usefulness of the feedback made by NIOSH following a program investigation. This information plays a key role in helping NIOSH determine how it might further provide technical services through this vital program resource.

“Good opportunities appear all of the time, but it’s up to you to take advantage of them,” Alia El Burai Félix recommends to potential program participants.

For more information about the ORISE Research Participation Programs at CDC, visit orise.orau.gov/cdc/.