"Anybody that does public health, and does it well, does it because they love it": An interview with a 'disease detective
Epidemiologist Paige Bordwine shared with me why she loves epidemiology, and what she wishes people knew about public health. This is an excerpt from an interview on being a 'disease detective' during the fungal meningitis outbreak.
Is there anything else you wish people knew about public health, epidemiology, the work that you do?
It is the most fun job I've ever had. I don't mean fun in the sense that it's good having people that are sick, but it is fun and very personally fulfilling being able to offer them something. Whether it's education, or help them connect the dots on care, or services they can get.
Or for people with the fungal meningitis outbreak, we were that link, that voice, if they were scared, we were who they called. Most of the patients [in my district] had my home phone number, and my cell phone number, and my office number, because a lot of times I called them from home at night because I didn't finish during the day.
A lot of times we're the people behind the scenes. I know sometimes there's a perception of any group, but sometimes state workers it's like 'They have it so easy. They get paid, and they get all these benefits, and then they don't do anything’ because they don't see what we're doing. But they have safe food to eat, they have safe water to drink, and they have ways to get healthcare, and all of that is public health. A good portion of that is epidemiology.
There is somebody behind the scenes making sure that all that food is safely prepared, and stored in the right away. Or there's somebody behind the scenes making sure that the 15 people that are sick with a communicable disease don't pass it along to somebody else. There's somebody else that makes sure that the school children are not in the school passing it along to other children. Most people don't see that. All the work that we do is that sometimes unappreciated work behind the scenes.
That's what I didn't know about public health when I came. When I first went to the health department, I knew they dealt with STIs and I knew they had a WIC program, sort of…and that's pretty much the extent of what I thought public health was. I realized that it affects every aspect of life. I just wish people appreciated all of the complexities that go into making their home a healthy place.
People don't even know who they're upset with when it's not working. [Interviewer: They think, ‘someone should be in charge of this!’] And someone was in charge, but the budget got cut and they're not there anymore, so nobody is watching it! There have been many times that [my colleague] and I have been in this office at 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Or all day on Saturday. Or out in the field at 10pm on a weeknight. Or going to get an animal that has bitten someone. Or going to talk to someone about a dog bite or an animal exposure or a communicable disease. Because that's the only time we can find them. We have the hours that are sort of acceptable, but sometimes we work everything but those. There were some weeks in the fungal meningitis that I logged 80 hours. Anybody that does public health, and does it well, does it because they love it.
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Six months later, disease detectives still battling fungal meningitis outbreak