Neil Vora, ACS Cobham Class of 1990
"My studies at ACS prepared me perfectly for this work because of the diverse range of classes I took that instilled in me an understanding of the complexity of many of the global issues we face."
Neil Vora, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A physician and epidemiologist focused on emerging infectious diseases, particularly those with animal origins.
For many people an afternoon or evening at the cinema is a nice diversion, generally a two-hour escape from the everyday world. But a great film can do much more than simply entertain, it can inspire. So it was that Outbreak, a 1995 thriller focused on a virus-linked public health crises, changed the course of Neil Vora’s, Cobham ’00, life, propelling him forward on a personal quest to become, as he puts it, a disease detective. But before after that fateful trip to the movie theater, there was a whole lot of living and learning.
Neil shares something of his earlier life and where his journey’s taken him today, “I was born in USA and moved to Saudi Arabia when I was 3, where I lived until I was 15, and then started boarding school at ACS. After graduating from ACS in 2000, I joined an 8-year program at the University of Southern California (USC) that guaranteed me admission to their medical school upon successful completion of an undergraduate degree. I ultimately decided to attend medical school at the University of California at San Francisco (USCF) after finishing my USC undergraduate degree in 2004. While at UCSF (2004-2009), I became very interested in infectious diseases and took an extra year to do research. I spent most of that year in rural Uganda helping to start a new study on malaria and HIV in children. I went on to specialize in Internal Medicine at Columbia University (2009-2012) in New York City (NYC), and joined CDC in 2012 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer in the US Public Health Service. Nearly 8 years later, I am still with CDC and am currently stationed in NYC.”
ACS and its International Baccalaureate (IB) program definitely helped develop Neil’s first-class intellect and for that he’s ever grateful. He explains, “My time at ACS had a large impact on my current career. The work I do in public health is fundamentally inter-disciplinary, meaning that it draws upon many different academic subjects. My studies at ACS prepared me perfectly for this work because of the diverse range of classes I took that instilled in me an understanding of the complexity of many of the global issues we face. I did the IB curriculum while at ACS, through which I had to dive deeply into a range of different subjects. The most impactful of all of the classes I took at ACS was a class called Theory of Knowledge. This class introduced me to philosophy, and the importance of asking hard questions, whether to others or to myself. ACS was very much my gateway to the joy of learning. “
As a boarding student at ACS, Neil Vora gained as much or even more outside the classroom. He shares some of those benefits, “I am so appreciative of my time at ACS and its lasting impact on my life. Firstly, the diversity within the school (and particularly the boarding section) was amazing and wonderful. Few people have opportunities to make global friends at such an early stage in their life, and it was a privilege to experience that. Secondly, the mentorship. I had several amazing teachers and boarding school “parents” who pushed me harder than I would have pushed myself. When we are younger, we don’t always know what we are capable of, and I am thankful for those people at ACS who saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”
While his work with the CDC can seem daunting at times, including travel to areas of the world dealing directly with emerging and dangerous infectious diseases, it’s a life’s pursuit Neil absolutely loves. He says why, “My interest in working at CDC started at a young age: I watched the movie Outbreak as a teenager, and the idea of wearing a “spacesuit” to fight dangerous diseases excited me. Around that time, my father told me about the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the CDC, a cadre of CDC “disease detectives” who are deployable on short notice, and he made me believe that joining CDC was something that I could do if I wanted. I have been with CDC for over 7 years now, and absolutely love my work. Most importantly is the opportunity to have an impact and save lives. Aside from that, I find the work interesting. I have always loved human biology and animals, and I regularly get to think about how the health of animals and the health of humans are interconnected.”
Now well-established in his field, Neil’s happy to share his insights and experience with the next generation of ACSers or just young people in general, a message worth taking on board regardless of chosen career path. He urges all to press on, “Be bold in what you want to accomplish with your life and don’t let your fears de-rail you from your dreams. In fact, my sister gave me a poster when I started ACS that read “Don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams”, and that was solid advice.”
Be bold in what you want to accomplish with your life and don’t let your fears de-rail you from your dreams. In fact, my sister gave me a poster when I started ACS that read “Don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams”, and that was solid advice.”.
- NEIL VORA