CDR Catherine Rockwell, D.V.M Brings Passion to USDA veterinary care
Commander (CDR) Catherine Rockwell, D.V.M., is a senior public health advisor and USDA Public Health Service liaison officer on the Office of Public Health Science’s (OPHS) Applied Epidemiology Staff (AES). She has been with the Agency for almost 16 years and stays energized by her work because she is always learning something new. Her FSIS career path has transitioned through several FSIS program areas — from the field, to training, then policy and now science — with each experience complementing the next.
FSIS Career Path
Dr. Rockwell began her FSIS career in 2005 as a relief supervisory public health veterinarian with the Office of Field Operations. That same year, she also received her call to active duty with the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps Officers (CCO). She then became a regional trainer in the Office of Employee Experience and Development’s Center for Learning where she provided training for enforcement, investigations and analysis officers (EIAO) and was part of a team that developed the Advanced EIAO Methodology Training and new food safety modules.
She transitioned to the Office of Policy and Program Development (OPPD) where she wrote FSIS notices, directives and guidance documents. She was project lead for poultry sampling frequency waiver requests from industry and the development of sampling guidance when the modernization of poultry slaughter rule was issued in 2014. She worked collaboratively with other offices, including OPHS, on a variety of initiatives including the U.S. National Residue Program (NRP). The NRP monitors veterinary drug, pesticide and environmental contaminant residues in domestic and imported meat, poultry and egg products.
Because of this collaborative work, her transition from OPPD to OPHS in May 2020 was smooth. Said Dr. Rockwell, “My background in FSIS regulations, policy and plain language communication has helped advance OPHS’ program goals and FSIS’ strategic goals. With my move to OPHS, I continue to contribute to major FSIS strategic initiatives, including the NRP and NARMS.” The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) is a collaboration among state and local public health departments, and several federal agencies, including USDA. This U.S. public health surveillance system tracks antimicrobial resistance in foodborne and other enteric bacteria.
Dr. Sheryl Shaw, director of AES and Dr. Rockwell’s supervisor, said, “We welcomed Commander Rockwell into our AES family in May 2020. She brings a wealth of personal and professional experiences to the team. Her work ethic, institutional knowledge, friendly attitude and solutions-oriented contributions blend nicely with the team. Catherine is a vital asset to the NARMS team and helps lead and coordinate reviews after outbreak investigations.”
Dual Roles in FSIS
Dr. Rockwell currently divides her time between OPHS and her USPHS liaison role. As an AES senior public health advisor, she provides professional and technical support for the development of investigative summaries and for scientific and technical reports for Agency leadership and stakeholders. She also organizes, leads, facilitates and participates in Agency workgroups as an OPHS subject matter expert.
As a USDA USPHS liaison officer, she provides technical assistance and professional guidance to FSIS CCOs, FSIS personnel, other agencies and organizations. As one of the nation’s health-keepers in the USPHS Commissioned Corps, Dr. Rockwell is always available to support health initiatives or deploy to disaster areas. One significant effort involved setting up and staffing medical shelters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in 2012. In 2007, she deployed on the USNS Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship, on the Partnership for the Americas humanitarian mission to several Central American countries. The veterinary mission was to provide preventive medicine to local residents’ pets and livestock.
Path to FSIS
Dr. Rockwell worked as a licensed veterinary technician while she earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in Veterinary Technology at the State University of New York (SUNY) Farmingdale campus. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at SUNY Binghamton. She worked for the New York State Agriculture Department as an animal health inspector for several years before going to veterinary school. In 1993, she earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Wisconsin followed by one year of post-graduate work at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Canada and 10 additional years in private practice. Her love of learning later led her to earn a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Iowa and board certification in veterinary preventive medicine.
She first learned of opportunities at FSIS — and the USPHS — at a 2-day seminar for veterinarians on career options for veterinarians outside of private practice. Representatives from both FSIS and USPHS were in attendance. At the time, she was looking for an opportunity to use her veterinary training in a different way and found a federal career in public health very intriguing. Additionally, USPHS offered her an opportunity to serve her country and expand her career opportunities. “I continue to be energized by the work that I do both in food safety and in the broader public health arena,” she said.
Married 22 years to James “Mitch” Rockwell, the couple have two college-aged children, Erin and Brendan. Before the pandemic, Dr. Rockwell and her children volunteered at a local food bank where they helped organize distribution of food to needy families.
Dr. Rockwell is passionate about food security and food waste, and volunteering with her family helps fulfill a basic need for food and improved nutrition for those in need. She said, “As a veterinarian and CCO, my interest extends beyond the singular focus of food safety to address food waste, a problem in this country and one that the USDA is working to address directly and through partnerships. Reducing food waste provides opportunities to improve food security to vulnerable and underserved populations.”