MAE Scholar, ACT Health Communicable Disease Control Branch
Tell AEA a little bit about yourself and what made you choose to be an epidemiologist, with a particular focus on your field epidemiology work.
I am a current Master of Applied Epidemiology scholar at ACT Health's Communicable Disease Control Branch. But I have not always been interested in epidemiology and public health. I originally trained as an urban planner and economist and was introduced to the work of John Snow through my interests in spatial sciences and land use planning. I found the outbreak investigation work fascinating and wanted to know more about field epidemiology. When I realised I could combine this interest with my love of data analytics (yes, I am a massive nerd), I was sold.
What essential tools or techniques have you used/still use in field epidemiology?
The key skill I am using daily in field epidemiology is communication. It can be overlooked compared to the complex study design and data analyses we perform, but these studies will only be as strong as the information we can collect. Being able to interview cases for a wide range of conditions, listen and respond to their concerns, and persuade senior decision makers to change our public health response is a core skill of field epidemiologists that I would love to celebrate more.
What is one of the most rewarding experiences you have had as a field epidemiologist?
There are few experiences that match the rush of identifying the source of someone's infection and knowing what we can do to prevent further cases. I have had this rush a few times with foodborne illness investigations, where I have been able to piece together information from several case interviews to pinpoint a source, and we can work with the food business or provider to change practices.
What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught us?
For me, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced how important trust is in field epidemiology. Our field relies on people feeling safe and comfortable enough to share information about their illness and their lives to help us solve problems and take public health action. Trust in public health can be fragile, and it is difficult to rebuild once it is eroded. It is crucial that we as field epidemiologists listen to, learn from, and trust our communities in order to better serve them.
If you could invite any Epidemiologists [alive/historical] to coffee, who would you invite & why?
Our Surveillance Coordinator at ACT Health's Communicable Disease Control Branch, Alexandra Marmor, is a legend. The knowledge, ease and calm with which Alex is able to manage the surveillance of all non-COVID diseases is awe-inspiring. I am also extremely lucky to have Alex as a supervisor, so I get to make these coffee catchups a reality.
What is your favourite band, and tell us why?
I am a massive Alex Lahey fan. Her music brings me joy and is where I turn when I need a reminder not to be so hard on myself.