Before the coronavirus took hold of the world, you didn’t really hear much about epidemiology.
But, the pandemic has pushed the profession to the forefront of the news, conversation and even social media.
This week, KX News sat down with an epidemiologist at the center of the coronavirus response in North Dakota.
“No one really talks about if you’re an ‘epi’. A lot of them work here at the State of North Dakota though,” shared Jenny Galbraith, an Immunization Surveillance Coordinator and Epidemiologist for the N.D. Dept. of Health’s Disease Control Division.
Epidemiology is a branch of medicine. It deals with the study, analysis and control of diseases. It’s a cornerstone of public health that shapes political decisions and medical practice.
Simply put, there’s a lot of research and data collection.
“It kind of varies kind of from ‘epi’ to ‘epi’. But basically what I do, because I work in infectious diseases, is do a lot of investigation of infectious diseases and a lot of data stuff, like trying to make pictures out of puzzle pieces and kind of putting things together. Kind of protecting the public health of individuals,” Galbraith explained.
Pre-pandemic, she spent her workdays focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases, like school immunizations.
“…a lot of talking to people, and just kind of protecting people,” Galbraith added.
When we first discussed interviewing Jenny, we expected to find her in a lab, but that’s not really the case.
“None of us actually work in a lab right now,” she explained.
“You know, my job is at a computer and a phone.”
So who are the people working in the lab?
Galbraith said, “Those are actually more like medical lab scientists. We work really closely with the lab, obviously, especially during this time.”
Galbraith’s COVID-era title is Case Manager for the Southwest District of the state, spending her days contact tracing.
“I love talking to people, kind of getting to the bottom of things, and just helping people in general,” she shared.
“You know sometimes people can be difficult and those calls aren’t always great, but it’s the people that you know you helped, that make it all worth it.”
When asked just how much busier the state’s epidemiologists are during the pandemic, Galbraith said, “I particularly am very much busier, and we definitely just have a way higher number of cases than we normally ever need to follow up on.”
But, she says as an epidemiologist, times like these are what they’re always planning for: one public health emergency after the next.
Despite the long hours and high stakes work, Galbraith told us, “Even during this time, I would take it all over again.”
Jenny went to school for biology and says she never expected to be an epidemiologist, but she saw a job opening several years back, and the rest is history.