Dave Atrubin – April 2015 – International Society for Disease Surveillance


ISDS created the Member Highlight series as a way to highlight member achievements, interests, and inspirations. This month we showcase ISDS member Dave Atrubin, who is the ISDS 2015 PreConference Committee Chair.

How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? Post graduate-school, I accepted a job with the Florida Department of Health Epidemic Intelligence Service (FL-EIS). This is a two-year fellowship that is patterned after the CDC’s EIS program. Through this program, I was exposed to a broad range of disease surveillance concepts including syndromic surveillance. I worked on a local syndromic surveillance system in the Tampa Bay area, and it was there that I really got into the nuts and bolts of disease surveillance.

What do you do?

For the last two years, I have managed the statewide syndromic surveillance system in Florida.  Our system, ESSENCE-FL, houses five different data sources (emergency department data/urgent care center data, poison control center call data, death record data, reportable disease data, and ASPR Disaster Medical Assistance Team data (when operational in Florida).  We have 194 active ESSENCE-FL users statewide to whom we provide support.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

No one said anything about enjoying it. Honestly, I enjoy the challenge of the job. The job involves a lot of problem solving, and I like that aspect of it. The job also requires a lot of human interaction. I have been lucky to work with bright, funny people who truly care about public health. 

What excites you in the work you do?

Well, I think that the future of disease surveillance presents interesting opportunities. The rate of expansion of big data is staggering, and sometimes there is a desire to try to make use of it without thinking about which data have utility. And how do we really know if a data source has utility until someone has attempted to use it? These are all really interesting questions that, I believe, do not get enough attention.

Who or what inspires you professionally?

I have been inspired by the people that I have met in the public health world. As a Florida EIS fellow, I made good friends who continue to work in epidemiology and who are now scattered around the country. We continue to bounce ideas off of each other.  The dedication of the individuals that I have met who work in the public health field is inspiring.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)?

Being a part of the disease surveillance efforts for the 2012 Republican National Convention proved to be a great experience. At that point, I was working as a local-level epidemiologist in Tampa, FL. Syndromic surveillance certainly played a major role in the overall disease surveillance picture, as it was one of our few near real-time surveillance systems, but so much more was involved. The increased emphasis on surveillance not only proved useful during the convention, but strengthened partnerships that have endured.

How long have you been involved with ISDS?

I knew ISDS before it was called ISDS. I attended my first syndromic surveillance conference in NYC in 2003.  I believe that I have been to all but one of the conferences since then. We are married by common law standards.

Why are you an ISDS member?

Well, it is the international organization for syndromic surveillance. The conference seems to get better each year. The webinars put on by ISDS are often directly applicable to the work that I do. Having a community to collaborate with is invaluable.

What do you value most about your ISDS membership?

The box lunches at the national conference should not be underestimated. Again, having access to the syndromic surveillance community is a huge benefit. At some level, redundancies in government are inevitable, but learning from each other can definitely provide efficiencies that benefit everyone.

What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)?

Quality of data is always the biggest issue that needs training, monitoring and supervision because a lot of designs while be taken based on this data.

IWhat is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

When I was 22, I played hockey in Barcelona, Spain for a season.  Frankly, people are likely surprised to learn that they have ice hockey in Spain. While it wasn’t the NHL, it was a great experience. I would recommend eating some patatas bravas and paella – if you have never done so.