The CDC expert, author, marathoner, faculty member, reverend, and humanitarian shares how heartbreak and hope have defined his career.

CSU Global healthcare administration faculty member Dr. Phillip J. Finley’s educational journey did not start out as one might expect. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma—after five and a half years—with a bachelor’s degree and a 2.1 GPA. 

Shortly after commencement, a friend’s mother, who worked for the Department of Defense, encouraged Finley to apply for government jobs. “There were no computers, just typewriters, and I had to fill out these long forms and mail them to the government,” he recalled. Three months later, Finley was contacted by an organization he had never heard of, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the leading authority on public health matters in the United States. His interview lasted 15 minutes and consisted of just a few questions, one of which was, “If you had the health records for a young girl who tested positive for a venereal disease, and you had to show up at her door, and everything that you do is confidential and the mother answers the door, how would you handle that situation?” 

A few months later, Finley packed his bags for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to embark on his now 34-year run as a public health advisor with the CDC. His work has spanned treating HIV-positive individuals and providing resources to underprivileged communities, helping prisons navigate the COVID pandemic, leading emergency preparedness efforts after Sept. 11, and heading the Overseas Effectiveness Workforce Development (OEWD) group addressing the personnel needs of CDC-funded countries such as Barbados, Malawi, Mali, Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Botswana, India, Thailand, and Kenya.

Finley’s career is marked by moments of heartbreak and hope, successes and setbacks. One of his first patients in Fort Lauderdale was a 16-year-old girl who had taken a bus to get her HIV results. She was three months pregnant at the time. “She thought she was going to be in and out, but she tested positive for HIV. Back then, this was a death sentence, with a maximum of six months that a person could live,” shared Finley. “Thirty-four years later, I still think of her.” Despite adversity, Finley has touched the lives of millions through the creation of health infrastructures worldwide. 

Finley’s experiences and knowledge have benefitted CSU Global healthcare administration and management students for the past five years. “I am able to really elaborate on my life experiences in our discussion boards,” explained Finley. “I’ve seen what HIV can do in sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve seen what malaria does on a daily basis in Nigeria. Our students need to hear this.”

Finley encourages his students to seek experience at local and state health departments but also to think globally. He sees his role as teaching the next generation about the value of a health department in rural communities and the importance of gaining international experience. 

"I love CSU Global students," shared Finley. "They are so committed to healthcare management." Finley, who received two master's degrees from Emory University and a Doctorate of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University, recognizes that CSU Global students are receiving an incredible educational experience with exposure to so many industry experts. 

In addition to his public healthcare work and teaching responsibilities, Finley is an ordained minister, author, and avid runner (and a two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon!), and sits on the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Track Club. Through all his personal and professional experiences, Finley's best advice for students looking to enter the healthcare field? "Do the work, give your best, and continue to show up."

Dr. Phillip J. Finley is also featured on the CSU Impact Map, which is available online or at the new CSU Spur Terra building. Visit the CSU Impact Map to explore stories about the CSU System’s efforts to tackle our planet’s major challenges, including improving our food, water, health, environment, energy, and more.