The purpose of the ISDS Member Highlight series is to showcase successful and highly active ISDS members. Each month a different ISDS member will be chosen for an interview as a way to highlight member achievements, interests, and inspirations.
August 2012: Blaine Reeder, PhD
Dr. Blaine Reeder is the Co-chair for Informatics of the Research Committee and has been involved with ISDS since 2010.
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I learned about disease surveillance through information design fieldwork and course work during my graduate studies in biomedical and health informatics at the University of Washington.
What do you do? I am an informatician. My focus is applied research about how different people interact with and use the same types of data to accomplish different goals in different contexts and settings. I design for improved interactions and workflow using an approach that relies heavily on engaging people who use technology.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy talking to people and trying to help them solve their information problems.
What excites you about the work you do? The possibility that I can help influence improved population health outcomes by connecting people through usable technology and well-represented information.
Who or what inspires you professionally? I am inspired by frontline public health workers who persist in their daily work, oftentimes without optimal resources.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)? I try to view my accomplishments as a process rather than in terms of static milestones. As long as my daily work involves small problem resolution toward the larger goal of more usable information, I am happy. My current work is looking at ways we can use sensors and technology to connect older adults, family members, health care providers and public health workers for health monitoring and management of chronic disease.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I have been involved with ISDS since 2010.
Why are you an ISDS member? I enjoy the sense of volunteerism that ISDS fosters and the collaboration between the various types of people it brings together.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? I enjoy being a part of the research committee. I am always looking for ways to free more time for those efforts.
In your opinion, what is the biggest issue in disease surveillance? Yikes. There are lots of really big issues. From a domain perspective, I think there is a critical need for systems to help monitor and manage chronic disease in aging populations.
From an informatics perspective, we need to find better ways to make data usable as information for decision-making for every stakeholder in many different domains. That issue is well-recognized. Still, I think that information interactions and usability are often overlooked when systems are being designed. That’s not to say that good design has not been identified as an issue, I just think design is often overlooked in practice for a variety of reasons. Most people involved in information systems work are well-intentioned but it becomes a matter of trade-offs. Good design takes time, resources and interdisciplinary collaboration with the right mix of experience and training.
If you were not an informatician, what would you be? If I was not an informatician, I would be a creative writer. I bought a manual typewriter at a garage sale for a dollar when I was nine-years-old. That machine was my first technology-supported information interaction.
July 2012: Larissa May, MD, MSPH
Dr. Larissa May is the Chair of the Education and Training Committee and a member of the ISDS Meaningful Use Workgroup. She has been involved with ISDS since 2006.
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I was fortunate to be exposed to the field of public health while still a resident in emergency medicine by participating in an elective rotation at the DC Department of Health where I was participating in a variety of surveillance activities, emergency preparedness, and public health interventions. This experience also led to my first publication, which fueled my decision to pursue a career in research.
What do you do? I am a board certified emergency physician at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, with secondary appointments in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics as well as Microbiology. The majority of my professional effort is spent in clinical and translational research. My projects span the entire gamut of the clinical and public health realm in the field of infectious diseases. My current interests include public health surveillance in the ED and university settings, the epidemiology of acute infectious disease emergencies, particularly influenza and MRSA related skin and soft tissue infections, and antimicrobial stewardship in the emergency department. I also teach a graduate public health class on emerging infectious disease epidemiology.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I love the variety in my day-to-day activities — in the research setting, I am fortunate to be part of several interdisciplinary research teams with outstanding collaborators who are experts in their respective fields, and also to be mentoring the next generation of researchers, our students and residents. In the clinical setting, I enjoy interacting with patients. Helping people who are experiencing health emergencies is not only highly rewarding, but is a constant reminder of the importance of clinical and public health research.
What excites you in the work you do? Translating the findings of syndromic surveillance research to design better systems that can directly inform clinical practice for infectious diseases as well as inspiring students to pursue research opportunities in public health and clinical medicine.
Who or what inspires you professionally? Mentorship of the next generation of public health and clinical investigators — inspiring our students to make meaningful contributions to public health and spread the word about its importance is deeply rewarding.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement? In 2008 Julie Pavlin and I led a CDC–NACCHO funded consultation with ten syndromic surveillance experts to develop an online continuing education curriculum in syndromic surveillance, “Syndromic Surveillance 101”, which was subsequently funded for continuing education credits and is now available on the ISDS website. Public Health practitioners from around the country and the world have had the opportunity to learn more about syndromic surveillance and obtain continuing education credits free of charge through this unique effort.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? My mentor Michael Stoto encouraged me to submit an abstract based on our research on emergency department syndromic surveillance of ILI to ISDS in 2006. I attended the Education and Training Committee meeting and have been a highly active member ever since.
Why are you an ISDS member? Disease surveillance is not focused on in the public health or clinical curriculum, yet it is an integral component to the prevention of infectious diseases, and to improving public health in our communities. My goals as an ISDS member are to increase knowledge on syndromic surveillance, help bridge the gap between clinicians and public health practitioners and to increase awareness among medical professionals of the importance of public health, as well as to encourage increased collaboration amongst the various stakeholders. ISDS provides unique opportunities for networking as well as for education and training.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? The opportunity to network with the best and brightest in the field and to contribute to training the next generation of public health practitioners and clinicians on the importance of innovations in public health surveillance to support improved public health interventions.
In your opinion, what is the biggest issue in disease surveillance? Developing robust yet practical surveillance systems that can meaningfully inform public health practice and clinical recommendations. Future directions should include not only on collecting the vast quantities of data made available through improvements in our health IT infrastructure but on figuring out which data is most important to collect and how to harness the data we have to inform public health decision-making and improved evidence-based practice.
If you were not a physician and researcher, what would you be? Right after residency while obtaining my MSPH, I very strongly considered joining the US Public Health Service. If I were not in academia, I would be thrilled to be a CDC officer working in influenza surveillance or investigating emerging infectious diseases outbreaks.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you? As the daughter of a foreign service officer, I spent the first sixteen years of my life in Europe and am fluent in French.
June 2012: Alan Siniscalchi, MPH, MS
Mr. Alan Siniscalchi is the Chair of the Public Health Practice Committee. He has been involved with ISDS since the first Annual ISDS Conference.
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I first gained an appreciation of the value of effective disease surveillance systems in graduate professional school and decided to make this one of the focus areas of my studies.
What do you do? I serve as the Influenza & Bioterrorism Surveillance Coordinator for the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I really enjoy the opportunity to work with a group of talented and dedicated health professionals in responding to the constantly changing public heath challenges that we encounter each day.
What excites you in the work you do? As we say within our agency, “saving lives” through the early identification of evolving pathogens and emerging diseases and the prevention of their spread.
Who or what inspires you professionally? Through the years I’ve been inspired by a variety of teachers and health professionals ranging from retired Yale Medical School Professor and former President of the Infectious Disease Society of America, Dr. Vincent T. Andriole, through Dr. Farzad Mostashari and many other long-term members of ISDS!
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement related to disease surveillance? Some of my proudest achievements were contributing to the expansion of multiple surveillance systems for tracking influenza in Connecticut and promoting use of regional surveillance networks for bioterrorism, influenza, and emerging infections.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I was fortunate to have attended the first few ISDS conferences in New York City and helped present Connecticut surveillance efforts in all subsequent conferences. i am also proud to serve ISDS as chairman of the Public Health Practice Committee (PHPC).
Why are you an ISDS member? The ISDS has played a major role in my professional development and has helped guide the expansion of advanced disease surveillance systems within my agency. Its unique focus on surveillance sets it apart from other health profession organizations and societies.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? ISDS staff and the various committees work to bring the latest information on surveillance applications and important policy issues from around the globe. The annual conference has become increasingly valuable. Its networking opportunities alone are unusually rich, since they bring together members of academia, public health practitioners, and consultants from the universe of disciplines that are attracted to the world of disease surveillance.
What is one thing that people would be interested to learn about you? My application of surveillance tools is not limited to anthropocentric applications as I volunteer for a number of environmental organizations and agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in monitoring populations of threatened and endangered species.
May 2012: Dr. Louise Wilson
Dr. Louise Wilson is the Chair of the Global Outreach Committee. She has been involved with ISDS since 2006. We are pleased to introduce Dr. Wilson as our second Member Highlight.
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? As a paediatric intensivist I had a practical interest in disease surveillance, but it was whilst working in public health at Health Protection Scotland that I became interested in syndromic surveillance and biostatistical approaches to disease surveillance.
What do you do? I work in the National Health System and I am the Director of Public Health for Orkney, a beautiful archipelago off the north coast of Scotland.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I love the variety of work to be covered – with the additional challenge of delivering preventative services in the remote and rural setting.
What excites you in the work you do? Everything! For me it is a privilege to work in the NHS and serve the local community. I’m lucky to work with some really dedicated people.
Who or what inspires you professionally? I’ve been fortunate to work in a number of countries and had many great teachers. However, when I graduated, I worked for a paediatic surgeon, Willie Bisset, who was simply inspirational in his dedication and approach to patients, colleagues and work.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I have been involved with ISDS since 2006, when I presented a poster in Baltimore. I now chair the Global Outreach committee.
Why are you an ISDS member? I think the society is a great way to make surveillance techniques widely available and share best practice. It enables me to bring the best of cutting-edge practice to my local practice. I particularly enjoy supporting the work of the society as it focuses on surveillance in the global setting.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? The connectivity it provides is important for me – I feel part of a great community. That is particularly important when working in a remote setting. The approachability of members, their willingness to share their ideas, and the mix of backgrounds of people involved with ISDS makes it special. The annual conference is a real highlight of the year for me – I love putting faces to the names of people I’ve been working with over the year and meeting new people.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? For me it is the challenge of making surveillance practical and usable for the front line staff – so that we reduce morbidity and save lives. The shift from theoretical to practical solutions is crucial.
If you could meet anyone living or deceased, who would it be? The “enchantress of numbers” Ada Lovelace (1815-52). She was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and worked with Charles Babbage.
April 2012: Dr. Al Ozonoff
Dr. Al Ozonoff is the Research Committee Co-Chair for Statistics and Analysis. He has been involved with ISDS since 2004 in various capacities. We are proud to present Dr. Ozonoff for our first Member Highlight.
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I came from a public health family. When I was around 10 years old my mother took a job with a surveillance program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, so I was exposed at a young age! After my doctoral work, I trained for two years with Professor Marcello Pagano, where I was exposed to surveillance from a biostatistical perspective.
What do you do? I am the Director of the Design and Analysis Core for the Clinical Research Center (CRC) at Children’s Hospital Boston. We are an inter-disciplinary group of about twenty biostatisticians and other methodologists that support clinical trials and other research at Children’s Hospital.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy interacting with my colleagues and co-workers at the CRC every day, especially the fantastic team that I work with in our Core.
What excites you in the work you do? It’s exciting to spend every day in support of the hospital’s mission to cure childhood disease.
Who or what inspires you professionally? I draw my inspiration from my parents and their work in public health, and from all of my teachers over the years. Marcello and my graduate advisor Darren Long are special inspirations of my academic life.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I have been involved with ISDS or its early forerunners at different levels of involvement since 2004.
Why are you an ISDS member? As Stephen Thacker wrote, I believe that surveillance is the cornerstone of public health practice. I feel that my work to support public health surveillance is the most effective way for me to make an impact on public health in this country and internationally.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? I most value the opportunity to communicate, share ideas, and discuss important work with experts and advocates across the spectrum of public health practitioners. I believe ISDS members are among the leaders in the modern development and evolution of disease surveillance, and I am glad to be in the company of such a dedicated group.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? That is a great question, but also a tough one. I believe a continued challenge for the surveillance community is to make the importance of surveillance more known and understood to the larger public health community and indeed to the wider public. This is not a new challenge but it remains fundamental to the continued success of ISDS and others.
If you could meet anyone living or deceased, who would it be? John Graunt (24 April 1620 – 18 April 1674) – my surveillance hero!