ISDS created the Member Highlight series as a way to highlight member achievements, interests, and inspirations in an effort to showcase successful and highly active ISDS members.
This month’s highlighted member, Jill Baber, is an epidemiologist at the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Disease Control. She is very involved with ISDS’ One Health Surveillance workgroup, and is a regular participant on ISDS’ BioSense User Group meetings and Meaningful Use Community Calls (among others).
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 as an MPH student. I was originally a policy major, but I was so excited to learn about surveillance that I ended up an epidemiology and environmental health dual major.
What do you do? I am the epidemiologist coordinating the syndromic and influenza surveillance programs for the North Dakota Department of Health. I also coordinate the state health department’s Epidemiology Workgroup.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the variety in my day-to-day work. Working for a small health department means I am involved in a variety of projects beyond the two that I coordinate. It also requires me to be resourceful with my time and to utilize my public health skills to their fullest extent.
What excites you in the work you do?
I love being involved with finding answers to new, emerging questions. For example, North Dakota had a couple of avian influenza outbreaks in our commercial turkey flocks last spring. The outbreaks in the United States had only recently started, so there was not much specific guidance as to how health departments should respond, and there were a lot of questions for which we could not wait for an official answer. Working with a small group of people to navigate novel territory is probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done professionally, and required fast, critical thinking. This job is rarely boring.
Who or what inspires you professionally?
I am inspired by the dynamic individuals in North Dakota and in other jurisdictions who never fail to find solutions to the many challenges that we face in public health, and who never give up on pushing for change that will positively affect the health of all people.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)?
North Dakota’s suicide prevention program was interested in learning if our syndromic data could help identify suicide deaths. Although I found our data was not a better source of information than the death record already in use, we (unexpectedly) found free-text chief complaint data was an excellent source for information on attempted suicides, for which there is no current data source in North Dakota. The project is still in the beginning stages, but discovering something new in our syndromic data that will have significant impact another program’s ability to receive quality data was an exciting moment.
How long have you been involved with ISDS?
Why are you an ISDS member?
When I started my current job, the person who held my position previously told me I needed to join ISDS right away so I could get all the information on ISDS’s plethora of calls and webinars-it was excellent advice.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership?
ISDS provides phenomenal resources, community and otherwise, that are invaluable to my everyday work. Through ISDS I have made many important connections to colleagues in other states or that work for other organizations. The first group I became involved with was the Meaningful Use Community, and man, that is a topic that definitely requires a community to navigate.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)?
Finding a happy medium between utilizing new technology and developing consistent methodologies is a challenge. Sometimes it feels like we’re always shifting interest to the next big thing, and we leave a lot of half-finished work (that required significant resources) behind.
If you were not an epidemiologist, what would you be?
If I was not an epidemiologist I would be a videogame designer.