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Epidemiology methods – Our common link

Posted By Matt Thomas, Thursday, July 24, 2014
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As an epidemiologist for the tobacco program and formerly with the healthcare associated infections program at the Vermont Department of Health, I’ve been exposed to several different types of public health practice within applied epidemiology. Every program area has one thing in common—each relies on the same epidemiology and surveillance concepts and methods. These methods provide a foundation that ties all of our work together.

I’m finding in my career that epidemiologist are often in situations in which they may not have enough time or resources to fully utilize their training in epidemiology methods. This might be due to the pressures to quickly provide the public and partners with data or the need to have epidemiologist play a role in a variety of other functions (e.g., disease control, program evaluation, performance measurement, or informatics). The epidemiologist may have a supporting role in all of these activities, but that role shouldn’t be at the expense of the practice of epidemiology methods. While providing data to the public and partners is an essential function of an applied epidemiologist, that data is produced as a result of epidemiology and statistical methods. Placing a priority on that final product without prioritizing methods can lead to less reliable data. The Epidemiology Methods Subcommittee was formed to address these issues.
The Epidemiology Methods Subcommittee gives us the opportunity to highlight why epidemiological methods are integral to public health. The subcommittee focuses on both providing methodological content and building capacity to better allow epidemiologists to practice their skills.
So far, this new subcommittee has begun a series of webinars, each of which focuses on a different topic pertinent to applied epidemiologists. These webinars allow us to listen to our colleagues talk about epidemiology methods in-depth so we can use them in our day-to-day work. For example, one webinar looked at analyzing public health data using census tract-level poverty. Another discussed data analysis in small jurisdictions. Continuing to learn new methods and improve our skills allows us to enhance public health.
Going forward the subcommittee will take on projects related to improving how health departments function as a system in addition to professional development about epidemiology methods. In many settings, improving the organizational setting may be a necessary step that allows epidemiologists to practice the novel methods they learn from the webinars.
I have often heard from leaders in epidemiology that we need to advocate for our role in the public health landscape, especially in an ever-tightening funding climate. The Epidemiology Methods Subcommittee can be a forum for us to improve our skills, promote the value of these skills to our partners, and advocate for the ability to use these methods to their fullest.
I’d like to see this cross-disciplinary group of epidemiologists continue to come together to learn about new topics and ways to promote and advocate for their value. We’re still in our formative stage as a subcommittee, and we could use your participation to shape it into what you want it to be. What do you want help with? What issues are you dealing with in your health department? What have you found success in that you can share?
Matt Thomas, PhD is an epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health and the chair of the Epidemiology Methods Subcommittee.

Tags:  epidemiology  member spotlight  professional development 

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