Cynthia Lucero-Obusan – June 2013 – International Society for Disease Surveillance


How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I first learned about disease surveillance while working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer. During that time, I worked in the Surveillance Branch of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion and became involved in work related to healthcare-associated infection surveillance through the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and also surveillance for invasive MRSA infections through the Active Bacterial Core (ABC’s) Surveillance program. This was a great foundation for my current position which focuses even more heavily on biosurveillance, surveillance of healthcare-associated infections and reportable communicable diseases.

What do you do? For the last 5 years, I have worked as a medical epidemiologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Health. I work in the Clinical Public Health Group and serve as the lead epidemiologist for biosurveillance within the Office of Public Surveillance and Research, which is a national field office located in Palo Alto, CA. I also keep my pulse on the ground at our local medical center by serving as hospital epidemiologist for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

What do you enjoy most about your job? I love the variety of the work we do. VA is one of the largest providers of healthcare in the country and since VA facilities reside on federal land they are not technically under the jurisdiction of state and local health departments. This results is a lot of work for a relatively small health department like ours. My job combines the very interesting work of disease surveillance along with outbreak and look-back investigations, research, policy-related work, geographic information systems (GIS), infectious diseases and other general public health concerns.

What excites you in the work you do? There’s never a dull moment in our office! There is so much interesting work, a very scholarly atmosphere among the staff and some flexibility to conduct research in areas that are of particular interest to me. In addition, I’ve really enjoyed the collaborative work we do with various groups and divisions at CDC, Dept. of Defense, private sector and academic partners. In the last two years we’ve worked with CDC to establish a Veterans Affairs EIS position based in our office. It’s been a great experience to supervise the very first EIS officer in this position and I’m excited about the new officer joining us this summer!

Who or what inspires you professionally? As a clinician, my patients used to really inspire me to be my best and work hard every day. One of the most difficult adjustments when I transitioned to the field of epidemiology was the loss of the satisfaction and instant gratification I received from helping my patients. Although I don’t interact with patients on that same one-to-one level now, I can still draw inspiration from the patients that our agency serves. Coming from a family of many proud service members and being a Veteran myself, I am humbled and gratified at the opportunity I have to do this work for our nation’s Veterans. My grandfather was a WWII Veteran and recipient of both the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He was also a VA patient, so I often think of him when I want to put a face on the work I do.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)? I was very honored to recently receive the 2012 ISDS Award for Outstanding Research in Biosurveillance in the “Impact on the Field of Biosurveillance” category. It was a wonderful validation of the work I have been doing and our partnership with the Department of Defense to improve biosurveillance quality and capacity within our respective agencies.

How long have you been involved with ISDS? I became of member of ISDS and attended my first ISDS conference in 2008, so close to five years now!

Why are you an ISDS member? The networking and opportunities for collaboration within this society are excellent. I also like the size of the organization which really facilitates members getting to know one another and communicating more easily than in some of the larger professional organizations.

What do you value most about your ISDS membership? The opportunity to share my work with the larger biosurveillance community and the continuous learning opportunities that are available at the conference and through the ISDS committees, webinars, working groups and other venues.

What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? I think one of the biggest challenges is overcoming the “information chasm” that has developed in our field. We have a growing deluge of data but it’s siloed in our individual systems and agencies. As a result, we fail to harness its full potential. We are still a long way away from successfully sharing and integrating surveillance data across jurisdictions, federal agencies and the private sector in a meaningful way.

If you could meet anyone living or deceased, who would it be? That’s an easy choice: Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain. In my opinion he was, and remains, the master of wit and satire. I’d love to be able to throw a big dinner party with him and my most entertaining and opinionated friends. I think it would be one of the most interesting and memorable nights of my life. Someday I’d love to write fiction and if I ever get around to that, he would definitely be a big influence on the style and approach I would take to my writing (which I’m sure would be quite different from my current style of scientific writing)!