Judy Akkina, Veterinary Services, APHIS, USDA
How did you learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? I first learned about disease surveillance when I was in nursing school and did a public health rotation. I loved the rotation and decided to enroll in an MPH program. In the MPH program epidemiology was my favorite class, and I was fascinated by how much you could learn about a disease by studying its distribution in the population. After finishing the MPH program I knew that epidemiology was what I wanted to focus on in my career, and that I needed to gain more knowledge and skills in surveillance and research, so I went on to get a PhD.
What do you do? I am an epidemiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Veterinary Services, Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health (CEAH). I have worked at CEAH for the past 18 years in the areas of animal disease surveillance and risk identification and assessment.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy the variety in my work (many different diseases, species, and disease surveillance issues) which means I am always learning something new. I also really enjoy working with a multi-disciplinary group of colleagues including veterinarians, economists, statisticians and many others with varied and diverse expertise.
What excites you in the work you do? I am excited by having the opportunity to be creative and work on novel projects that incorporate new ideas and ways to conduct disease surveillance, with the goal of protecting the U.S. livestock population from foreign animal diseases and controlling endemic animal and zoonotic diseases. I have a background in animal, human, and environmental health so I love the opportunity to work on One Health issues. With the resurgence of many zoonotic infections and the discovery of many new ones, this is an exciting field to be involved in.
Who or what inspires you professionally? I am inspired by my colleagues and fellow ISDS members who seek to advance the science of surveillance, continually improve their skills, and generously share their expertise.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement(related to disease surveillance)? There are many surveillance related projects I have completed and publications I have written that I am proud of. Right now I am most proud of being part of a team developing new syndromic surveillance data streams for animal health monitoring in the U.S., such as livestock markets, slaughter facilities, veterinary laboratories and veterinary practitioners.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I attended the first ISDS conference in 2002 in New York City and have attended 8 of the 12 annual conferences. In 2007 I served on the Conference Scientific Program Committee and I just became the new chair of the Research Committee.
Why are you an ISDS member? Being a member of ISDS gives me a great opportunity to interact and network with people who share my interest in surveillance. It is a wonderful community of very nice and friendly people who are happy to share their vast and varied expertise. Many of the contacts I have made at ISDS have helped me in the work I do. I gain so much knowledge and awareness about the latest advances in syndromic surveillance when I attend the annual conference.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? As a member I feel more invested in the organization, including voting and participating in all that ISDS offers including the many excellent webinars and committees.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? There is so much data collected by government and other types of organizations that is underutilized for surveillance and public health purposes. Issues of privacy and availability of data must be dealt with so that more data can be available in the public domain for researchers to use. New methods to catalog, standardize, integrate, and analyze these vast data sources are also needed.
If you were not an epidemiologist, what would you be? I am a foodie and love everything about food including cooking, food shopping, cookbooks, nutrition books, cooking shows on TV, etc., so it would be something related to food.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years, I will have... retired and hopefully be enjoying my time with my grandchildren!