“I am an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiologists are pretty much what I like to call disease detectives. They do the same thing detectives do as far as investigating criminals. Only in this case, in my particular job, the criminals that I’m looking for are not people, they’re actual pathogens that make people sick.”
1) One role model told us that epidemiologists are “disease detectives.” What does this mean? Describe the types of job tasks that epidemiologists have. How are these tasks similar to the tasks a detective has?
2) Epidemiologists must work well with others. They often partner with state and federal government workers, international agencies, and other scientists. What kinds of skills do you need to work effectively with others? What are some other careers where you need these skills? List some ways that you could begin practicing your teamwork skills now to prepare for the future.
3) Listeners learned that epidemiology is a very rewarding career field. Epidemiologists get to see the results of their work and how their duties are impacting people directly. Do you think it is important to pick a rewarding career field? Why or why not? What types of careers do you believe would be rewarding for you?
4) A role model said, “Science gives us the blueprint for understanding what is happening around us.” Do you believe this is true? What experiences have you had with science where you understood something or viewed it differently than you did before? How could the “blueprint” of science help during a disease outbreak?
5) Diseases and bacteria are around us all the time, and they aren’t going anywhere. This makes epidemiology an in-demand career. That means that there are plenty of jobs for people who want to become epidemiologists. But not all careers are in
demand. What are some careers that you think are not in demand? Why? Can you think of any
careers that no longer exist?
I am an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiologists are pretty much what I like to call disease detectives. They do the same thing detectives do as far as investigating criminals. Only in this case, in my particular job, the criminals that I’m looking for are not people, they’re actual pathogens that make people sick.
We are the individuals that are the front line of defense. So we go and work with various state officials in determining what the problem is, how we need to address it, who’s been affected, what are some strategies we can implement, and preventing others from getting infected. So we look at Salmonella, Listeria, E. Coli, and Campylobacter. And so those are the four main pathogens that cause the most illness in the US. And so we’re able to look at determining what contaminated foods are associated with those pathogens so that we can create interventions to target those.
The current position that I have allows me to be able to work with pharmaceutical companies as well as international partners to make sure that people with HIV, around the globe, are able to receive proper antifungal medications if they need it. A lot of these countries aren’t able to afford it. So part of my job is to be able to interface with these different companies as well as other agencies and wonderful international partners to make sure these needs are met.
I work primarily with pertussis, which causes whooping cough. And right now, we are trying to determine how the disease is changing and how it is very different than the vaccines that are administered to people. So we do a lot of epidemiology, genetics, molecular biology, and microbiology. Right now, one of the proteins that’s actually in the vaccine that causes the immune response is no longer active in a large amount of the strains that are circulating in the United States and other countries. So that in itself shows that somehow the bacteria is actually kind of hiding from the vaccine. So what we want to do is try to find a more effective vaccine by doing these testing to find mutations and to see how different genes that are involved to possibly have new targets for vaccines, also.
As an immunologist, I’m interested in the immune system and how our bodies respond to cancer, and how our bodies respond to the various treatments that are given to cancer patients. And with that knowledge, I’m trying to develop more effective treatments for cancer.
It’s really so rewarding to see the work that goes into the outbreaks that I investigate or other things that I’m involved in and to be able to actually see results and how they’re impacting people directly.
And being able to fulfill CDC’s mission of addressing health, security, and safety threats.
Asking the question is why and how different things are happening in our society. Kind of science– kind of gives us the blueprint for trying to understand what is happening around us.
Independent Learning Guide: This all-purpose guide can also be used by educators, parents, and mentors to jumpstart a valuable discussion about the exciting possibilities of an epidemiology career.
Classroom Lesson Plan: This step-by-step lesson plan is available to guide a more in-depth “before, during, and after” learning experience when viewing the video with students. This lesson plan is also suitable for use in after-school programs and other educational settings.