Natasha Close, Washington State Department of Health
How did you learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? My first real exposure to disease surveillance was as a practicum student at Public Health - Seattle & King County during my MPH studies. I mapped dead bird reports and mosquito trapping results in order to identify potential environmental hotspots for West Nile Virus. Through that experience, I discovered that I really enjoyed the intersection of technology and public health that often occurs with modern day disease surveillance.
What do you do? I am a surveillance epidemiologist in the Office of Communicable Disease Epidemiology at the Washington State Department of Health. My duties are quite varied as I am often pulled into whatever projects come up that involve large amounts of data or technology. My primary role is managing our syndromic surveillance system. This involves everything from strategic planning, grant writing, system administration, implementing meaningful use as it applies to syndromic surveillance, and analysis of syndromic surveillance data.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I really enjoy those increasing rare moments when I get to put on some headphones and do some serious Stata or SAS programming. It's like getting paid to do logic puzzles.
What excites you in the work you do? I enjoy that I have the opportunity to work on projects that have potential to move public health practice forward. While the day to day work can sometimes bog you down, it's exciting to think about how I am helping to pave the way for better disease surveillance in that it will be more timely and take advantage of data sources that are either new or have historically been siloed.
Who or what inspires you professionally? I am inspired by my colleagues both locally and nationally and their ongoing enthusiasm for overcoming the seemingly endless barriers with the vision of making things better. Each time I interact with colleagues I witness creativity and ingenuity, often with minimal resources.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement(related to disease surveillance)? So far, I would say it is getting our state's Meaningful Use website up and running. While it may not be state of the art, I'm proud to have a comprehensive and technically accurate resource to which I can direct our hospitals and providers. It was the culmination of many hours of conference calls and research simply to familiarize myself with the many complexities associated with Meaningful Use.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? I have been involved with ISDS for the five years since I attended my first conference in 2008.
Why are you an ISDS member? ISDS is the first and only organization I have encountered that has a strong interest in the practice of syndromic surveillance. From the very first ISDS conference that I attended, I had a sense of belonging. ISDS cultivates a community of professionals from academia and public health practice that understand the problems I face and have a shared goal of improving the practice of disease surveillance.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? Outside providing a forum for people both nationally and internationally to discuss issues related to disease surveillance, ISDS has been an incredible resource during the rollout of Meaningful Use. Charlie and Becky have been my go to resource for Meaningful Use questions. They always respond quickly and cheerfully with a helpful response. I also value that ISDS serves as a link to national resources and is our voice into national conversations.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? The entire public health community is faced with limited resources and many are trying to do more with less. Funding that does exist is dedicated to specific projects and people are constrained to work within their own organizational structures. Sadly, this means there is less ability, time, and energy to harness the collective resources of the many to achieve great goals.