Dr. Dawn Smith was a revered figure in the field of epidemiology, with a distinguished career that spanned several decades. As an epidemiologist, medical officer, and researcher in the Division of HIV Prevention at the CDC, she made significant contributions that had a real impact on people’s lives. Her leadership style was insightful, and she was also known to be a good friend to many.
Dr. Smith’s journey to becoming an epidemiologist began with her residency at the Indian Health Service Hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona. While pursuing dual master’s degrees in public health and statistics from the University of Michigan in the late 1980s, she became aware of the devastating impact of a new disease that was disproportionately affecting African Americans. This fueled her lifelong commitment to combating HIV/AIDS. In 1991, she joined the CDC and quickly established herself as a key member of the team.
Dr. Smith’s illustrious career included a four-year stint as the associate director for HIV research at the CDC field station in Botswana. During her time there, she played a pivotal role in developing clinical trial infrastructure and initiating PrEP trials. In recent years, she had emerged as one of the foremost experts on expanding access to and use of PrEP, particularly among gay men of color and heterosexual men and women. As the Biomedical Prevention Activity Lead in DHP, she was instrumental in updating the CDC Clinical Practice Guidelines for PrEP, and she also played a leadership role in the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative.
Tragically, Dr. Smith passed away in 2022 while leading the epidemiology task force in CDC’s multinational monkeypox response. However, her legacy as a pioneering epidemiologist, dedicated researcher, and tireless advocate for public health will continue to inspire generations to come.