“Sexual health is an important component of overall health and should be treated as such,” said Sagar Kumar, a fellow in the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
He held a fellowship through the CDC Research Participation Program. It provides educational and training programs designed to provide students, recent graduates and university faculty opportunities to participate in project-specific CDC research, current public health research and developmental activities.
During his two-year fellowship, Kumar was heavily involved in research within NCHHSTP’s Division of STD Prevention. There, he contributed to multiple projects involving MarketScan®, a large administrative claims database with 40 million annual enrollees. Under the dual mentorship of Guoyu Tao, Ph.D., and Chirag Patel, D.C., Kumar closely examined large sets of data to evaluate sexually transmitted disease (STD) care and better understand the nature of its costs, places of care and adherence to CDC’s STD treatment guidelines. Kumar also assessed the role of managed care and other private sector health systems organizations in STD prevention.
“I always knew I wanted to work to improve health care,” Kumar explained. He began his career as a pre-medical student in his undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia, but soon realized that rather than continue in the field of patient care, he was destined for prevention. “I wanted to work more with population health and infectious diseases related to sexual health, so eventually that’s what led me to public health and epidemiology,” he said.
While enrolled in the master’s program at Georgia State University, Kumar interned with CDC and learned about the CDC Research Participation Program, managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).
Whether he was analyzing data, writing manuscripts for publication and peer review or attending meetings and training, Kumar stayed busy assessing society’s need for better STD detection and preventive care. “STDs are on the rise with almost 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reported in 2018. They make up the majority of nationally notifiable diseases reported every year,” Kumar said.
Kumar’s contributions at CDC will further health services research and economic methods for cost-effectiveness models. Also, his contributions will help health care providers gain more insight into CDC’s (STD) treatment guidelines and how best to adhere to them, ultimately guiding health policy and recommendations.
Kumar’s experiences in the research program provided an understanding of what it means to be a professional in a scientific working environment. From balancing projects to meeting deadlines and the realistic expectations of his work, Kumar said that all of these skills and realizations have pushed him to become a better scientist and to think more critically, valuing high-quality work over quantity.
“I would recommend the CDC Research Participation Program to recent graduates,” Kumar said. “It allows one to gain experience through a training fellowship. The pool of applicants is much smaller than most appointments because of the recent graduate eligibility. Also, because you are a fellow, there is an understanding that you need time for trainings and learning that I do not think you can get elsewhere.”
Kumar is interested in continuing to work within CDC with the overall goal of finding a position as an epidemiologist or health scientist. He hopes to continue working with data that can be used to better the health of people in the United States and other countries.
The program is managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE focuses on scientific initiatives including educating the next generation of scientists and is managed for DOE by ORAU.