Field Epidemiology: what is it really like to be deployed across the world & tips for aspiring individuals, with Amalia Plotogea

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Show Notes

We have Amalia Plotogea here on this episode; and Amalia’s name might sound familiar because you may have read about her experience being a surveillance officer in Bangladesh to support the World Health Organization’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis on our Blog.

I brought Amalia on the podcast to ask her more about her field epidemiology experience because you all wanted to hear more. She tells us about two different deployments she was on, which gave her two different experiences. We also talk about high stress environments and uncomfortable situations she has been in, and how all of these experiences prepared her for her field deployment. And the most inspiring part is that we get to see how she actually puts herself into such situations, because right off the bat Amalia tells us how uncomfortable she is feeling recording this very podcast episode!

After we hear about some of her experiences, Amalia tells us about the importance of building relationships, and trust, and how it helps with your career, and also expands on the tips she shared in her blog post, for those of us thinking about getting into public health fieldwork.

You’ll Learn

  • About the two different deployments Amalia went on: one to Northern Canada, and the other to Bangladesh
  • Stressful environments and experiences she has had that have prepared her for field work
  • How to seek discomfort, as a “skill” to develop for field work
  • Tips for individuals who may be thinking about getting into field work
  • About the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program (CFEP) that Amalia was a part of, and other similar programs around the world (see resources section for links to these)
  • How Amalia has embraced being a “generalist” versus a “specialist”

Today’s Guest

Amalia Plotogea

Amalia is former field epidemiologist currently working for the Public Health Agency of Canada. She received a BSc. in Health Sciences from University of Waterloo (2010) and a Masters Degree in Public Health Epidemiology from the University of Toronto (2013). She has had the opportunity to work in numerous contexts and with a diverse group of stakeholders from across the healthcare landscape in Canada: As a researcher and epidemiologist at local & provincial health authorities in Ontario and BC, as well as in Nunavut to support a tuberculosis community screening. She has also worked internationally as a trainee with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and most recently as a surveillance officer with the World Health Organization supporting the Rohingya Refugee response.

Read Amalia’s reflection about her deployment to Rohingya in the blog post she wrote:


Other PH SPOT resources:

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Episode Transcript

Amalia 0:00
I was born in Romania, I was from like a very, very small village, 600, 700 people. And I would often go back in the summers to be with my grandma and my family there. And I mean, our village, there was, not every house had indoor plumbing. It was that sort of sense. So I think I was, I was primed a little bit just by visiting my family and seeing, in a way how a lot of the world lives. So through that experience, definitely, I think it made me at least more mindful about what different living situations I could be facing.

Sujani 0:39

Amalia 0:40
And feel comfortable in those spaces.

Sujani 0:45
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here, too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you so much for joining me today on what is our second episode of PH SPOTlight. PH SPOTlight is a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight and I’m here to help you build your public health career. We have Amalia here with us today. And Amalia’s name might sound familiar if you’ve been following PH SPOT for some time, because she shared a reflection titled “Lectures to Latrines”, where she recounts her time as a surveillance officer with the World Health Organization supporting the Rohingya refugee response. And I brought Amalia on the podcast to ask her more about her field epi experiences because you all wanted to hear more. And so Amalia tells us about two different deployments that she was on, which gave her two different experiences. And then we talk about high stress environments and uncomfortable situations that she’s been in, and how all of these experiences have prepared her for her fieldwork. And the most inspiring part is that we get to see how she actually puts herself into such situations. Because right off the bat, Amalia tells us how uncomfortable she’s feeling recording this very podcast episode. And so after talking about some of those experiences, Amalia tells us about the importance of building relationships and trust and how it helps with your career. And then she also expands on those tips from her blog post. For those of us thinking about getting into public health fieldwork. So here’s Amalia Plotogea.

Amalia 2:46
I want to start off by saying I’m slightly uncomfortable in the setting, but it’s good, because that’s what I challenge everybody to feel. So even recording this podcast.

Sujani 3:00

Amalia 3:00
There’s a bit of discomfort. But yeah, what so with, with that, my deployment, it’s interesting, because it was something that I had built towards, I think, so previously to being deployed in Bangladesh, I was actually up north in Iqaluit supporting the TB screening. And that in itself was a culturally shocking experience, given that it was in Canada, and I had never been up the north. And so that meant, that maybe, that’s a completely different topic. But that experience in the north of Canada really prepared me for my mobilization in Bangladesh, because of the conditions that I was in up north.

Sujani 3:44

Amalia 3:45
And so I already was, well, I guess versed in being physically uncomfortable.

Sujani 3:53

Amalia 3:54
50 up north and getting to Bangladesh. You know, it’s a very, very different cultural context than Canada. So, for those of you who have traveled abroad, you know, getting into a different setting how uncomfortable that can be. So it was very hot. It, the roads were very crowded. It was very loud. There was noise everywhere. So physically, very, I was very uncomfortable, which, which can really play out on your mental and emotional comfort as well.

Sujani 4:34
Yeah. How long have you gone with, say, even Iqaluit? Or both of those?

Amalia 4:41
So, yeah. When I was in Iqaluit, it was three weeks. And for Bangladesh, because it’s an international mobilization. It, they require, it’s between three to five weeks, I ended up staying five weeks there, because you’re going a very long way and you want to be productive while you’re there. And so you need some time to settle and some time to really be able to, yeah, provide the support that they need. So that’s why it’s a little bit longer. But they, they often don’t want you to stay longer than that. So mobilizations for epidemiologists in international settings are typically six weeks, five to six weeks. If you’re with MSF, they’re a little bit longer. So they asked for minimum three months to six months, I think.

Sujani 5:26
And do you think that five week limit is partially because of what you just explained, the uncomfortable conditions and maybe like the toll on your mental health that you typically have when you’re deployed like that?

Amalia 5:39
Yeah, it can be an often you’re deployed in emergency settings. So whether that be natural disasters or wars, or in this case, it was a refugee situation. And those are really high stress environments with really, really long working hours. And so they want to be mindful that you’re, you’re able to take care of yourself as well. And you don’t get burnt out.

Sujani 6:03

Amalia 6:04
So that’s why they’re usually a little bit shorter. Yeah.

Sujani 6:06
And so with, I mean, either one of the deployments good that you have to experience to talk about today. You mentioned the weather, which is completely different that in both situations, and then kind of the environment, that noise, what other conditions where you kind of surprised by when you.. Because I’m sure you spoke to a lot of your colleagues, and they kind of prepared you for the day to day life there. But I’m, I’m sure there must have been something that you weren’t kind of expecting maybe.

Amalia 6:34
So it’s interesting with Bangladesh, because we didn’t have direct connection with the people in the field there already. So we actually had no idea what to expect in terms of what our living conditions we would be like,

Sujani 6:48
Oh, wow,

Amalia 6:49

Sujani 6:50

Amalia 6:50
So when we went to prepare back actually gave us like, things that they thought we might need. So we got mosquito nets, we got like, just like a silk sleeping sheets in case, we would.. Sleeping bags, in case we would need them. So we really had no idea how close we would be to the refugee camps, nothing. And what was actually more shocking when we got there was that actually our living conditions were really good. We were in a WHO, sort of like a mix between like a compound and a hotel.

Sujani 7:29

Amalia 7:30
And it was gated. And from that perspective, it was actually shocking the other way.

Sujani 7:36
Yeah, you were well prepared.

Amalia 7:38
We were like over prepared. And that’s not always the case, I want to say that every mobilization is very, very different. My experience in this case was that the, at least a living conditions were very good for us. But some of my colleagues who have been deployed to DRC have had different experiences.

Sujani 7:57
Okay. Well, I guess if we go back to, before you were mobilized to, say, northern Canada, did you have any prior experiences being in tough conditions? Because, you know, in your posts, you kind of had said, you know, if when you’re traveling, take a less comfortable approach to that so that you can practice being uncomfortable. Did you do things like that, that kind of mentally allowed you to say yes right away to these kinds of opportunities?

Amalia 8:27
I think, two things there. I was born in Romania, from a and I was from like a very, very small village, 600, 700 people. And I would often go back in the summers to be with my grandma and my family there. And I mean, our village, there was not every house had indoor plumbing. It was that sort of situation. And so I think I was, I was primed a little bit just by visiting my family and seeing, in a way how a lot of the world lives. So through that experience, definitely, I think it made me at least more mindful about what different living situations I could be facing, and feel comfortable in those spaces. And then also traveling, I mean, if anybody’s backpack,

Sujani 9:17

Amalia 9:17
You know, how some of the conditions can be in those 16 bed dorm rooms where people are coming in and out and you’re on a budget, and you don’t have a lot of food with you, and you’re carrying everything you can carry on your back. And so I’ve done a little bit of that as well. And that definitely prepared me at least for Bangladesh, not so much for the north where it was minus 50. But yeah,

Sujani 9:43
Awesome. I think that’s a good segway into talking about some of those tips that you offered in your blog posts. You mentioned you know, there was the networking and kind of sharing your interests with your managers and stuff like that and being persistent. But what I really liked was that section that you focused on building your toolkit. And particularly with that, you kind of had said, you know, there’s absolutely the technical skills that you need to do the job. So if you’re going to be doing feel that, you need the technical skills to be an epidemiologist, but then there’s these additional skills, which I would argue that they’re kind of equally important. And for those who haven’t read the post yet, it was being open to discomfort, being versatile and being curious. And you offer very interesting suggestions there. And we just talked about kind of being open to discomfort, where people could practice whether when they’re traveling, or I think you mentioned also taking on different projects that are kind of difficult at work where there’s no guidance. I was wondering if you recall any other ways you practice being sort of like uncomfortable at work, where you maybe took on difficult projects, or took on things that had really no guidance so that you can exercise that skill?

Amalia 11:02
Yeah, I think with discomfort, I kind of in my mind broke it down into like three physic.. three types of discomfort: physical, emotional, and intellectual. And often, it’s like a very short term discomfort for a long term game. So you know, when you’re in a new setting, or you’re going to a new gathering, for example, or volunteering or just a new setting that there’s like, before you’re there, I like, often I get physically uncomfortable thinking about this new situation. So even before I present,

Sujani 11:38

Amalia 11:38
So I, I get physically sick before I present. And I used to let it kind of navigate my self talk inside, like, oh, gosh, this is going to be so difficult. Everybody’s going to be looking at me and whatever else. But now I realized that that physical discomfort is just, it’s natural, it’s going to be there almost no matter what I do. It’s just our body’s fight or flight hormones kicking in. And so I’ve started to kind of laugh at it like, there it goes, again, my stomach’s hurting before I have to present instead of letting it guide me. And I don’t let, I don’t let that physical feeling stop me. And so I, in the last year, so I’ve tried to take opportunities where, for example, I can present more, because I’m still uncomfortable with it. Yeah, so that’s, that’s one big space for me. I am, I’m very comfortable doing the analysis on my computer and running the number as an epidemiologist, you know, that is my comfort zone. It’s the other side that I’ve tried to develop.

Sujani 12:40
Yeah, absolutely. I think right before we started recording, we were talking about how this podcast even took me two years to convince myself to get behind the mic. And I’ve been reading a lot about that too, where you kind of acknowledge your own vulnerability, right before you tackle it. And that kind of just, you know, you’re obviously always going to have that fear. But it shouldn’t stop you from doing what it is that you’ve set yourself up for. That’s yeah, that’s amazing. And I guess the other one was being versatile. And you said, and we talked about this, how these field work opportunities, they’re often in high stress environments, and you don’t have access to much resources. And so I think you had offered like, when you’re volunteering or seeking different opportunities, try to put yourself under that high stress environment. I’m just wondering, like, what kinds of high stress environments one did you face in the field, but even before going into the field, whether things during you know, when you were back here in Canada, doing your kind of nine to five office work, were there situations that you felt this really prepared me for this high stress environment when you were deployed?

Amalia 13:58
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the first time I really experienced like a high stress situation was actually when I was working. Not that the routine nine to five doesn’t have high stress situations, because it definitely does. And there’s deadlines that you have to be aware of, and there’s juggling all sorts of projects. And but I remember the first time I, I, like physically felt very stressed at work. It was actually when I was in, in Europe working as a trainee for the European Centre for Disease Control. And at that point, they had activated their emergency operations center for Zika virus. It was when Zika was happening in South America. And in the EU, there wasn’t a big risk yet, but they were doing they were monitoring the situation and they were doing something that they call a rapid risk assessment to see what the potential forespread into Europe would be. And so as a trainee, I was asked to join the team. And what I was responsible for was doing event-based surveillance, to gather intelligence on Zika. and Europe. And so we were basically scanning government websites and media reports and other online websites to see the case count in South America, and also what the risk would be for Europe. And we would have meetings every single morning at 9am. Where we would have to basically communicate our findings from the previous day. And I, and it was so high stress that situation, because, A, I was completely new to that context and that place and, B, it was my first time doing event based surveillance back in Canada, I had been working on mostly chronic disease epidemiology, and that moves a lot slower.

Sujani 15:53

Amalia 15:53
You have time to think to reflect what if, you’re researching, you know, there’s longer timeframes, but working in a clinical disease in an emergency situation, in Europe was, it was so stressful. And initially, like, that was one of my goals for learning like I want, that’s what I wanted to get involved in. But I didn’t, really didn’t realize how, how fast paced and how stressful that would be. And related to that what was interesting is, although I was doing event based surveillance for about two weeks, the EOC, the Emergency Operations Center team, has a really high turnover, again, because it’s such long hours of high turnover. Yeah. And they, they needed somebody to support them with their RefWorks library. And it’s not exactly very desirable, fun job.

Sujani 16:49

Amalia 16:51
But I put my hand up. And I was like, you know what, this isn’t exactly what I want to be doing or the skills I want to develop, but you need support, and I’ll put my hand up to volunteer for that. And so with that, I got the chance to work with RefWorks, and build that skill set that I hadn’t really had a chance to develop yet.

Sujani 17:11

Amalia 17:11
So. So yeah, it was, it was an interesting sort of setting and dynamic and it was so fast paced. It was my first experience with that.

Sujani 17:20
Yeah, I like, you know, when, at least for me, when I’m in a high stress environment, I get physically, I feel physical pain. Was that, is that the same for you? Like how do you feel? Stomach aches?

Amalia 17:32
Oh, yeah, stomach aches and headaches, like,

Sujani 17:34
Oh, wow. For me, it’s my back, my back really stiffens up. And you kind of have to identify the root cause of it, I think, and then work your self backwards to try to figure out how to de-stress yourself and kind of just say, I’m going to take this as a challenge. How am I going to not hurt myself in the process and keep my mental health healthy as well?

Amalia 17:58
Definitely. And I think what’s interesting, actually, reflecting back on my experience in Bangladesh, was I was expecting to be put in that type of situation. You know, when you hear refugee crisis, you’re just like, okay, all hands on deck, it’s gonna be very long working hours, and I’m ready, you know,

Sujani 18:17

Amalia 18:18
But what was interesting is when I got there, they had, they were transitioning into a protracted emergency stage, the crisis had been going on for about a year and a half. And they were really building the office there as like a more stable office space. And so the working environments in Bangladesh actually weren’t as stressful as they were when I was in Europe, or when I was up north. Yeah, and so that was almost it was like counterintuitive and shocking, in a different way. Because I was expecting those long working hours.

Sujani 18:50

Amalia 18:50
And that’s stressful environment. And it wasn’t that, which is, I mean, it’s a good thing for the situation on the ground. But for my expectations, I really had to manage my expectations in that situation.

Sujani 19:04
I guess, you seem to be a very self aware person, I want to ask you, if you have any tips for, you know, myself and individuals who may be thrown into high stress environments, or, you know, we want to practice that skill. Are there things that you do that really helps you go head on with these high stress environments?

Amalia 19:26
Honestly, I feel like it’s a head down sort of approach. So I, yeah, I just, I put my head down, and I work.

Sujani 19:38
You just do it.

Amalia 19:39
You just do it. Um, but also, make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And so often, you have to be able to like identify your role and the exact needs and the gaps and where you can fit in. Because a lot of these situations, it’s like it’s like, a piece, like a puzzle. That sort of somehow works together and you’re not always. You’re not always doing what you wish you were doing.

Sujani 20:07

Amalia 20:09
But yeah, being able to find your place and put your head down and do the work. And then, like you said, find ways to refill your batteries, and build in that self care into a share. Yeah.

Sujani 20:27
The next sort of item you had on your toolkit was to be curious. That was a really good one, too. And I want to ask you to maybe explain to our listeners, what you meant by, you know, building that skill, and how that has worked in your favor for field deployment? And sort of, maybe even take us through how you exercise that curiosity muscle?

Amalia 20:54
Yeah, I think there’s two elements of the curiosity suggestion that I was thinking about when I wrote it. So the first one, is be curious about yourself and your interest and what drives you. Because I think that’s really going to form, what approaches you take and what opportunities you dive deep into. So when I was going through my undergrad, I wanted to go to med school. I just did. That’s what I wanted to do. And I think a lot of, not a lot, a few of my my MPH colleagues, were saying the same thing. And then I really like dug deep into that. Why do I want to go? Yes, well, what was it about it? And I realized that actually, the end goal of that, that I saw for myself was working for organizations like MSF. So it was about working in the field, it was about global health. It was about that. That’s what appealed to me about going to med school. So I was like, oh, actually, okay, maybe there’s other avenues for me to do this and to explore this. And so I think, really, really like being curious about your intentions. And also, I think, sometimes outside of work, and outside of school, we all consume a lot of media, or we’re reading or where your interests get, go certain ways. And sometimes we can do that without thinking about it. But I think if you look at the types of things you’d like to do outside of work, or outside of school, that can really frame choices you make in jobs you take and and courses you take, as well. So I was always reading about global health, I was always listening to blogs, and that was the media I was consuming. And I was like, okay, how can I build this into my career? Because we spend so much time at work. And I, you know, I really like? Yeah, there was like a coupling between my interests outside of work and the path I wanted to go on with work. And that was, I actually had to sit and reflect about, “Oh, what am I consuming? And why.” So, so yeah, so that’s the one aspect of it, be curious about your own thoughts and approaches and reasons for why you’re doing what you’re doing. And be curious about other people. So that’s where, you know, when I was thinking, when I was writing this, it was more what I saw myself, reflecting back on while I was in Bangladesh, for example. And the types of, I guess, the connections I was making with the, my fellow epidemiologists, and teammates there, and I just find so much value in being curious about other people. You get so much more out of it personally, but also professionally. So there was people at the WHO office from four different continents working together, you know, and there’s just something so special about that space.

Sujani 24:18

Amalia 24:18
And I don’t know, I sort of took it as a time to ask questions and learn about other people’s experiences, and trajectories and lives.

Sujani 24:29

Amalia 24:30
And yeah, it just added so much more to the experience.

Sujani 24:36
Yeah. I think that genuine curiosity in in a human being that you’re working with, or spending some time with really helps build that bond. And I think even for our careers, right, we don’t necessarily, or we’re not encouraged, I felt at least in during our school, to go out meet people network as much as I’ve felt some of my friends in business were being encouraged within school to really build that bond that relationship, because your network and relationships are really going to be the stepping stones of your career

Amalia 25:14
100% And you build trust also, within a team to work on projects together, you need that personal connection to really trust another individual. Yeah, you know, it’s beneficial from all aspects.

Sujani 25:29
I guess it’s interesting, because you know, you you were getting deployed for such short periods, three weeks or five weeks, do you feel that trying to build that bond or that trust is harder? Or is it easier? Because you’re all in sort of this high stress environment?

Amalia 25:46
Yeah, I that’s what I found more. We were all kind of captive souls. In a very short bubble, like a very short time bubble, and so different, it’s not all necessarily good. You know, people, we’re all in high stress situations in that space, and people react very differently. But you’re more vulnerable, in a way and open because of that.

Sujani 26:15
Yeah. Because I guess everyone coming from different parts of the world. And,

Amalia 26:19

Sujani 26:19
your commonality is that everyone’s new in that space.

Amalia 26:23

Sujani 26:24

Amalia 26:25
And I think the best thing was connecting with the National colleagues from Bangladesh, that what they like, the things they were able to show us and share with us. That was probably my favorite. Definitely, it was definitely my favorite part of being deployed, we ended up going to one of my colleagues cousin’s weddings.

Sujani 26:47
Oh, wow.

Amalia 26:49
Which I mean, I felt so lucky that we were invited to something like that, and it was just the best night ever.

Sujani 26:55

Amalia 26:56
Yeah. And then, you know, and then we went into work on Monday. And the conversations we were having and the questions, we were asking them about work, even, they were just a lot more open and easy to, it was easier to tackle the problems together, after we had had an experience like that.

Sujani 27:15
Yeah. You know, even for those who aren’t deployed across the world, and working there in Canada, just going for social events really helps build that bond outside. Yeah.

Amalia 27:27
And sometimes, sometimes the organization doesn’t support that as well as it could. And so people have to take that initiative on their own. If they want that, like, nobody’s gonna fault you for it, you know, do it, you got to make the actions happen.

Sujani 27:45
Yeah. And you’re doing it in your own time after work. And you definitely need to invest in relationship building. Just so, you know, you build a better bond for your work day that you’re almost spending your entire day at. Yeah.

Amalia 28:02

Sujani 28:04
Shifting gears a tiny bit, we talked about your deployment, and then some of the tips. And I think I was mentioning to you before we started recording, often, when we publish a post on deployments, or a field epidemiology, there’s often curious individuals who are really interested in the field, emailing just to ask, I think one of them was saying, “How can I prepare more like I really loved Amalia’s post, but are there books I can read? Are there things I could do to really prepare myself?” And I was thinking, I can take some of your time to see if you had tips for individuals thinking about field work, how they can either get their foot in the door, or maybe you can walk us through how you got yourself into field work, and then maybe offer some tips as well.

Amalia 28:53
Yeah. So I guess there’s three different avenues one can take. My experience was very structured, because I was in the field epidemiology program. While I was on, while I went on both of my deployments and so that approach, you have to be in the program to get deployed through the Public Health Agency of Canada. They accept applications every year, between September and October. So maybe we can link the FAC website onto the blog. If people are interested in applying to a program. That’s a a two year program. It’s a placement program. You’re based at a public health organization, somewhere in Canada and then as a supplementary. I guess, supplementary to your work at that organization. You also get chances to be involved in outbreak investigations or deployments. People aren’t guaranteed international deployments, but they are guaranteed deployments within Canada. So that’s one approach So,

Sujani 30:00
I guess for people who are not from Canada like to our listeners,

Amalia 30:05

Sujani 30:05
We were talking about how some of the other countries also have similar programs. Could you mention some of those?

Amalia 30:12
Yeah. So there’s the EIS academic intelligence service in the US has, not, sorry, that’s the US CDC, they have a program in Europe, that European Centre for Disease Control, they have a similar program called the app yet. There’s versions in Australia, basically all over the world. And the organization overseeing this is called Taffy net. And perhaps we can link to that as well. Yeah, so these are very structured programs with attached competencies that people who are in the programs have to accomplish by the end of two years. One of which is to be mobilized to support outbreak investigations. Yeah. So yeah, so if but because so in Canada, actually, they only accept by, let’s say, three to six people a year in this program. So there are usually a lot of applicants and not that many positions, because it is funded by the government. But the other avenues that people can look to, obviously, are MSF. They do slightly longer term deployments into an international into the field basically. And that process, they have an online application. And then there’s a range of NGOs. Also. If you’re not an epidemiologist, that’s there are those are potentially the better avenues to go internationally with other NGOs. MSF, and the field epi program are pretty epidemiology focused.

Sujani 31:59
Yeah, I think MSF, or med says or Doctors Without Borders, they often will have some sort of roster application that folks can apply to and sort of wait until there is a need for epidemiologists or non public health roles are sometimes advertised as well. For sure.

Amalia 32:22
Yeah. If, I want to, can I recommend a book?

Sujani 32:27
Yeah, for sure.

Amalia 32:27
Okay. It was, I think it was the quote I used on my blog post at the end of

Sujani 32:32
Oh, yeah.

Amalia 32:33
Yeah. So if, if you’re interested in looking or in knowing more about the realities of field work, “Six months in Sudan, by James Maskalyk”. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. He’s a physician. So his role is definitely from the, it’s more clinical than it would be for, just that it really gets at the the challenges, the joys, the despairs, and it’s a very it’s just a very well written book is based on his blog that he wrote while he was there, that for anybody.

Sujani 33:14
Perfect. We’ll link that up, too. And I think there was another book. It may have been published from the USCDC, it was called “Beating back the devil”, I think. It may have been a collection of stories, right?

Amalia 33:28
Yeah. Yeah, I haven’t I haven’t read that one, that’s on my list.

Sujani 33:31
Okay. We’ll link, we’ll link those two books. For those wanting to sort of understand more the day to day work of fieldworkers.

Amalia 33:42
Book, the other book, I like, can I make another recommend?

Sujani 33:45
Yeah, for sure.

Amalia 33:47
It’s called range by David Epstein. Have you heard of it?

Sujani 33:50
No, I haven’t.

Amalia 33:52
I really like it. Because sometimes, as an epidemiologist that has had, I’ve had a lot of very diverse experiences. And I when I reflect on them, sometimes I have trouble, I have trouble linking them all up, you know, and this book, it’s called, it’s called “Range”. And it’s why generalists triumph in a specialized world.

Sujani 34:16

Amalia 34:17
And I really like it because I’ve always seen myself as a generalist, I like a diverse range of experiences, but I’m not deep, deep, deep into any particular disease or methodology or research. And so this book really, really helped me kind of see the benefit of a more generalist approach and in a, in an approach where different tools in my toolkit are are taken out at different times and strengthened. So if anybody else struggles with that with feeling sometimes like a little bit, too much of a generalist, this is a really good book.

Sujani 34:55
What do you mean when you say that you’re having trouble, I guess linking your different experiences?

Amalia 35:01
Since reading that book, I’m like, wow, this is really beneficial. But um, no, I, I am, when I was in Ontario, I was working in chronic disease epidemiology. But I did both. I looked both at diabetes and cancer, and injuries. And then I moved to BC, where I was working more on communicable diseases, and I looked at STIs and HIV. And so, it, I found it, I found it challenging when talking to some of my colleagues that were very deep into their particular study area. To kind of, I don’t know, to

Sujani 35:43
it’s kind of like a self identity.

Amalia 35:43
Yes, it was, exactly, that was exactly it. I’m like, Well, no, I’m not a TBFP. So what am I? Well, I’ve done this, this and this, and how do I frame that in a way that’s almost like easy for people to understand?

Sujani 35:56
Yeah. Because typically, you have like infectious disease EPI, or you have like, methodologists. Yeah,

Amalia 36:02
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So this book really helped me see that as a strength and not as a liability.

Sujani 36:08
Okay, I’ll have to take a look at that. I often struggle with that.

Amalia 36:12

Sujani 36:13
Wonderful. So any sort of parting words of wisdom or tips for our listeners who are kind of thinking about field work? Yeah.

Amalia 36:25
I think I’m gonna go back to the blog post, where I noted that I was rejected from the field epi program three times. And that used to be like, stressful for me to say, and now it’s just, yeah, that that was the reality. And sometimes that’s the reality that you bang your head up against a wall three times, but the fourth time you get through it. And so I think I also noted how important persistence is in this, in this, in this work. So I encourage anybody that’s interested in field work and wants to do the field epi program or wants to go abroad. Just keep knocking on different doors and keep being persistent with it. Because if you really want to do it, it’s accessible to you just next time.

Sujani 37:09
I guess in retrospect, when you look back, you think, oh, yeah, this was the perfect time, right. Like in the moment, it may not feel like it.

Amalia 37:16

Sujani 37:18
Guys, I hope you enjoyed that episode with Amalia and took away some tips from her that you could implement in your own career. And if you want to get any of the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you, including Amalias blog post and the books that she mentions. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

I’m hoping one day you will also write a book about your experiences. No pressure, no pressure.

Amalia 37:54
Thanks, Sujani. That was great.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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