Outbreak investigations are an ideal public health activity that can be used to demonstrate the application of key epidemiological concepts. A new study examines the lessons learned over a decade of collaboration between the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and state and local health departments. The study was published online in the the Royal Society for Public Health in May.
[Photo: Dr. Kristen Pogreba-Brown]
The Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response (SAFER) program at the University of Arizona College of Public Health is a unique hybrid of a student outbreak response team and a service learning public health course. Like other service learning courses, students are required to spend a large amount of their coursework interacting with the public; but unlike many other community engaged experiences, SAFER students work to collect data and conduct analyses for health departments related to outbreak investigations as well as perform routine surveillance activities for enteric diseases.
The program evolved over time, beginning with a needs assessment of local health departments and a determination of student training needs, collection, and confidential transmission of data, and interviewing techniques. Over the last decade students have worked on outbreak investigations, case-control studies, program evaluations, and in-field responses.
Since 2005, over 200 public health graduate students have contributed more than 1, 800 hours investigating 62 separate disease outbreaks in Arizona. In addition, over the past four years students also worked an additional 2, 500 hours to assist county health departments in routine enteric investigations, specifically for Campylobacter and Salmonella.
Best practices and lessons learned found that communication, preplanning, and a willingness to collaborate increased the learning opportunities for students and ability for health departments to increase their capacity both during an emergency and for routine work.
The findings suggest that the establishment of a student response team offers many benefits: trains students in field experiences; creates trained surge capacity for health departments; increases collaboration between schools of public health and state and local health departments; establishes a way to share funding with a local health department; and increases the number of students being placed in health departments for projects, internships, and jobs following graduation.
Student outbreak response teams: lessons learned from a decade of collaboration
The Royal Society for Public Health. May 25, 2017