Dr. Brianna Medina Returns to Her New England Roots
Dr. Brianna Medina grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts where the farming community is small. Her father didn’t want his daughter to grow up thinking that food came from the grocery store, so he made sure she knew about agriculture. This early exposure to agriculture led Medina to know from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She worked in small animal veterinary clinics throughout high school. While studying animal science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she became involved with their beef program, where working with cows became her passion, specifically, sustainable beef production. In her Veterinary Public Health class at Ross University’s veterinary school in St. Kitts, West Indies, Medina attended lectures about FSIS’ role in meat inspection and was quite intrigued. After completing an externship with FSIS her fourth year of veterinary school, she knew FSIS was where she wanted to be.
Back to Her Roots
This month, Medina celebrates seven years with FSIS. As a supervisory public health veterinarian (SPHV) in the Philadelphia District, Medina has a patrol assignment in the Providence, Rhode Island, circuit. Her FSIS career began as a relief SPHV in the Dallas District; she then transferred to a HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) poultry plant, which became one of the first New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) establishments. After having identical twin girls in 2016, Medina wanted to move back home to Massachusetts to be near family. She has two main responsibilities in her current SPHV position in Westport, Massachusetts – protecting public health and supervision. These two responsibilities are intertwined and include supervising two consumer safety inspectors in small and very small red meat establishments and relief inspectors at a small, family-owned poultry establishment.
Dr. Medina packs a sample box for the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). Through a Memorandum of Understanding with APHIS, the animal’s cecal contents are tested for residues such as drugs, antibiotics, heavy metals, minerals, etc. It is an exploratory sample. Photo taken by Tom Garvey, frontline supervisor in Providence, Rhode Island.
Medina is happy to be back in her home state. She is passionate about agriculture in New England because it is such a unique region where animal breeds that are not common to the rest of the United States are raised, such as Belted Galloway and Firefly Pinzgauer cattle. “New England agriculture means working with people who raise 4-H show animals, free-range pigs, heritage breed milking goats and backyard chickens. We have a father and son dropping off the steer they’ve raised and shown for the past two years. They may have questions about what exactly USDA inspection means or how it is performed. I get the satisfaction of knowing that FSIS inspection of poultry from a local farm means the community has safe, wholesome, unadulterated chicken to eat,” said Medina. The very small plant in Westport that Medina supervises is a teaching facility run by trustees of a nonprofit organization that preserves agricultural land; every month, they offer tours to students from two local agricultural high schools and University of Rhode Island students.
Milestones in Medina’s career include working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an investigation to locate the source of a Salmonella Blockley serotype that caused foodborne illness in the Northeast region. Another was working with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Rhode Island Department of Agriculture and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture to ensure proper livestock disease surveillance was occurring. During a brucellosis outbreak in 2019, Rhode Island was declared brucellosis free because one of the establishments she covers submitted over 50 brucellosis tests from boars and sows that year – no other Rhode Island establishments submitted swine samples.
“Performing my job makes me feel like I am making a difference in the world. Through the decisions that I make daily, I am protecting consumers – my family, my neighbors, my friends and my colleagues. I educate consumers, farmers, plant management and inspection personnel and, as an SPHV, I am an advocate and an educator for animal welfare,” said Medina.
Promoting Food Safety
When speaking with friends and family about food safety, Medina often gets questions regarding the modernization of inspection systems. She enjoys educating them, sharing that she was part of the pilot to modernize poultry production through HIMP and, later, the plant was one of the first to implement NPIS. She also shares how the Agency is modernizing inspection in swine production and looking at beef modernization in the future. As industry changes, the Agency uses science and data to inform decisions about modernizing inspection processes and to provide oversight in the most effective way possible. Medina reflects, “I am glad that I joined the Agency when I did because I have a full understanding of traditional inspection in all species, and now I am learning the new inspection systems. Since I was involved with the implementation of NPIS for a couple of years, I was asked to travel to some other plants to assist in the implementation and training the inspection team.”
Her job as an SPHV provides Medina the work-life balance that allows her to spend time with Jonathan Medina, her high school sweetheart and husband, and their 3-year-old twin girls, Kaia and Kailyn. Other interests include CrossFit, weightlifting and other fitness activities. She is very passionate about eating less processed foods, minimizing sugar consumption and teaching her daughters how to be healthy.
“I boast all the time about everything the Agency offers: good work-life balance, great benefits, jobs nationwide and jobs in many different disciplines,” said Medina. When asked what kind of person should consider a career in food safety, Medina responded, “Anyone who is passionate about helping others.”