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#IAmHHS: A Science Nut’s Journey from Puerto Rico to HHS

Guillermo is a scientist, a lawyer and an international public health responder. He is one of more than 79,000 people who make HHS run every day.

En español

I’ve always been a science nut. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I wondered why helium balloons raise your voice pitch – unless you have asthma like me. In sixth grade, my helium experiment testing lung capacity of people with asthma compared to those who did not won 1st prize at the school and regional science fairs. 

The curiosity and passion for science I found as a child never left me. When I learned that Puerto Ricans have higher incidence rates of asthma than other Latin Americans, I wanted to find out why. I eventually had the opportunity to study genetics and cell biology and explore that question at the University of Minnesota. In 1999, the National Institutes of Health offered me a job and I published as first author the findings of the pre-clinical research in stem cell gene therapy. I’ve been with HHS ever since.

As part of the HHS Emerging Leaders Program, I did rotations throughout the Department. It gave me the opportunity to work at different HHS agencies and learn how HHS leads the nation in the sciences underlying medicine and public health. This eventually helped me find my way to where I am today. While working at CDC, I met the person who would become my mentor, Dr. Joxel García, then deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization. I worked with Dr. García on the revisions of the World Health Organization-International Health Regulations and on water safety plans in South America, which stirred my interest in international health and technical assistance. I studied international health law and, in 2008, I joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Guillermo Avilés-Mendoza takes a photo with his parents in front of the U.S. Capitol.

In 2009, I joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) on the fight against H1N1 pandemic influenza. I was sent to Mexico to arrange for the arrival of U.S. flu vaccine donations and work with the Mexican government to enhance pandemic influenza surveillance.

At ASPR, what I find striking are the differences in health conditions in countries around the world.  One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that in international health, understanding the different capacities of each country – whether it’s dealing with Ebola in West Africa or Zika in Puerto Rico – one size won’t fit all.  But with commitment and cultural understanding, we can be successful.

Perhaps influenced by my personal experience with asthma, I believe it’s also important that we understand and work to reduce health disparities here in the United States. And that can be helped by improving diversity throughout HHS. I want to help Hispanics find rewarding careers here. Only about 3 percent of HHS employees are Hispanic, so I’m working hard to improve that, through the efforts of the HHS Hispanic Employee Organization, the Hispanic Officer Advisory Committee, and the Minority Officers Liaison Council of the U.S. Public Health Service.

I’m Guillermo Avilés-Mendoza. I’m a scientist, an international public health responder and adviser. Y Yo Soy HHS. I Am HHS.

Guillermo is one of more than 79,000 people who make HHS run every day. You can share his story and see others on Twitter and Facebook using #IAmHHS.

Guillermo is a scientist, a lawyer and an international #publichealth responder. #IAmHHS #YoSoyHHS http://go.usa.gov/xNAjR


#IAmHHS: Fighting Infectious Diseases Here and Abroad #YoSoyHHS Mi locura por las ciencias me llevó a HHS

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