State Health Officer, Mississippi State Department of Health
Mary Currier started off the New Year on a high note.
After spending most of her career with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH)—initially serving as a staff physician for the prenatal care, family planning, STD and pediatrics programs, and as state epidemiologist from 1993 to 2003, and again from 2007 to 2009—the Mississippi State Board of Health unanimously scrapped plans to conduct a nationwide search to fill the post and named her to a 6-year term as state health officer on Jan. 13.
The permanent appointment—a dream job for Currier, who is board-certified in public health and general preventive medicine—came six weeks after the death of former state health officer Ed Thompson, MD, whom Currier had loyally served.
“I’m very honored and excited to be appointed state health officer,” said Currier. “I look forward to continuing to pursue the goals Dr. Thompson outlined during his tenure, which include lowering tuberculosis, syphilis and infant mortality rates.Public health is my passion, and the Mississippi State Department of Health is where I belong.”
A graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, Currier received her master's degree and preventive medicine residency training in public health from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Her bachelor's degree is from Rice University; she also attended Trinity College in Dublin.
“The fact that Dr. Mary Currier is a Mississippian and has over 20 years of public health experience—much of it under the leadership of Dr. Ed Thompson—is an added benefit," said Board Chairman Luke Lampton, MD.
Currier, whose father chaired the neurology department at University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), said she’s long been much more passionate about prevention than treatment.
“I practically grew up at UMMC, going there on weekends with my dad and playing in his office, and even going with my mom to help wrap presents and give them out at Christmas to the kids who had to be in the hospital then,” she recalled.
When she was 15, Currier’s dad took the family on a trip to Ireland. For six months, he participated in a twin study on multiple sclerosis.
“Before personal computers and statistical software, he created these lovely graphs and charts regarding the possible MS risk factors,” she said. “This fascinated me, as did the idea of risk and disease prevention, thus preventive medicine, epidemiology and public health.”
Currier said that she and Thompson shared similar backgrounds.
“We’ve both done preventive medicine residencies and are both board-certified in preventive medicine, and have a love for epidemiology,” she said. “Our point of view has always been in that direction, but he was able to look in other areas and concentrate in other areas like infant mortality. He was able to be unbiased in his choice of priorities and the direction in which he wanted to go. I hope to continue that.”
No one can fill Thompson’s shoes, Currier emphasized.
“My hope is that I can find another pair of shoes and leave my own footprint. Certainly, the places where he had his emphasis are the places that I see needing emphasis. He was my mentor and had such a wonderful way of walking into a room and assessing what was going on and understanding the issues. By the time he got to the front of the room, he could discuss it. Those are not my strengths. I see my strengths in other areas. I’m a very good listener, but it takes me a little more time to think things over, and come to the way I’d like to deal with them. So I think things will be a little bit different, but the directions he went in are the directions I’d like to go because I’ve always agreed with those directions and not just because that’s where he wanted to go.”