Mary McQuilkin

Mary got her start spending Saturdays in high school caring for sick and injured seals and sea lions, where she learned about leptospirosis and domoic acid poisoning, which increases as oceanic warming spurs algal blooms that release a neurotoxin.

Following nursing school during her Peace Corps service in Uganda, she worked to improve nutrition among rural subsistence farmers challenged by climate change, in a community where deaths from AIDS were commonplace and antiretrovirals were not yet available. Mary assisted with a disaster response after landslides from torrential rains buried a village and displaced over 2000 people. She worked with Red Cross to plan the IDP camp to mitigate the risk of cholera and other water-borne disease, and helped coordinate medical care.

After returning to Baltimore, Mary was a community health nurse for homeless adults in transitional housing, where she trained staff as med techs as part of her program to help clients take their medications as prescribed, most of whom had HIV and other chronic conditions. While earning a master of science to become a nurse practitioner, she also earned a MPH with a concentration in occupational and environmental health. As a NP, she has worked in rural and urban communities, managed a clinic in a refugee camp in Greece, and was an Assistant Clinical Professor and HIV Minor Coordinator for UCSF School of Nursing.

Mary plans to study the population health effects of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases in the setting of climate change and global warming. Advancing this area of knowledge can prepare healthcare systems to respond to outbreaks effectively by empowering frontline workers with information and tools to communicate with policymakers.

Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue team
Yosemite Medical Clinic staff with ambulance
Yosemite Medical Clinic, 2019

Mary has dedicated her career to improving access to evidence-based primary care for underserved populations. The intersection of primary care, infectious disease, and climate change is becoming increasingly relevant. As melting permafrost releases viable bacteria, viruses, and fungi into the environment—many of which are drug-resistant strains modern humans have never encountered—the frequency and scale of infectious disease outbreaks will likely increase. This risk is compounded by changes in species affected by climate, such as increasing mosquito populations in warm areas, and by vulnerabilities we created such as overuse of antibiotics in food animals and fungicides on monocrop agriculture—practices that put our food supply, and our own health, at risk.

Team Rubicon disaster response team after hurricane
Team Rubicon disaster response following hurricane Harvey in Beaumont, TX