Abdul Hameed studied to be a physical therapist and worked for a year in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.
But most of the patients he treated were seriously injured or ill, and he felt like his work was too little, too late. He began to think about preventive health, not just for individuals, but large populations.
“I thought, ‘What if we could prevent a disease before it’s happening? What if the disease doesn’t happen, so we don’t need doctors or physical therapists?’” he says.
So Hameed decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health in the United States. A friend, studying on a Fulbright Scholarship, recommended UMass Lowell, and Hameed liked its coursework, faculty and diversity. UML also offered Hameed part-time work to help defray the cost.
When he started out, Hameed wasn’t sure exactly what area of public health he wanted to specialize in, but two practical experiences helped him find his calling.
First, he worked with Clinical Instructor Casey León on the Age-Friendly Community initiative in Lawrence, Mass. León helped to connect him with his next opportunity: working with the infection prevention specialist at Parkland Medical Center, a hospital in Derry, N.H.
When Hameed began his three-month internship, he worked with his supervisor, Sagir Muhammad, on improving the hospital staff’s handwashing practices. He did daily rounds with the staff to make sure that they were following all of the infection prevention protocols.
And then, COVID-19 hit the U.S., and patients began showing up at Parkland with symptoms. Hameed had a chance to observe and assist as Muhammad developed testing and prevention protocols for the brand-new, deadly and highly infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Coronavirus was quite new at that time, so my supervisor and I checked on the guidance with the CDC. We were continually researching updated information and guidelines and communicating those to the staff,” he says. “We were constantly improving the testing scenario.”
Hameed was so impressed by Muhammad that he decided to become an infection prevention specialist himself.
“He had a very inspiring personality, and I definitely wanted to follow in his footsteps because I really admired the work he was doing,” Hameed says.
With help from the Career and Co-op Center, León and Muhammad, Hameed got a job as an infection prevention specialist with the CDC not long after graduating.
He’s based in the Minnesota Department of Public Health, where he inspects nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities – virtually, for now – to make sure that they are following CDC and state guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Hameed says he also got job offers from hospitals in Florida and California. But he chose the CDC job in snowy St. Paul, Minn., for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the premier public health agency in the United States – and to help fight a historic pandemic.
“Usually the CDC doesn’t hire internationals, but they’ve changed their policy in the past year,” he says. “I’ll never get another chance for this experience.”