Continuing in our series, we'd like to introduce Harold Gil, a member of the NSSP Steering Committee. Harold is Epidemiologist - Surveillance with the Marion County, Indiana Public Health Department. We asked him to answer a few questions that will help us to get to know him....
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you?
I first learned about disease surveillance while doing a summer internship at the CDC Global AIDS Program station in Guatemala. As soon as I opened the datasets I had to work with, I was pretty shocked by the fact that many important fields that I needed for my analysis had mostly missing values. I thought about this and realized that program decisions for addressing HIV/AIDS are being made off of largely incomplete data. I realized that this must be happening all over the world to some extent and that the public health field is losing out on important information it needs to have an optimal impact. At the same time, I was serendipitously asked to translate a document summarizing needs from other country programs in the Caribbean-American region and most countries reported their number one need as “informatics capacity”. Thus, I decided that I would go into the public health informatics field to maximize my impact in public health.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m a surveillance epidemiologist. I get to build neat applications that allow me to make better use of the data I work with. I like that the fact that the grant I work under (NSSP) allows me to use much of my time to help others develop their technical abilities or to create tools that others may use. I get to collaborate with many people on different projects and it is clear to me that we make an impact in the field of health surveillance. At the same time, many of the people that I work with make work fun.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)?
When I was an APHIF fellow I led a project called BioSense User Community Extension Project (UCEP); its goal was to develop tools to help us get good measures our BioSense data’s quality. Several local and state jurisdictions were involved in the project and we split up tasks amongst ourselves. We accomplished a lot as seen by the products we put out (scripts, example output, user guide) and I’m very proud of how highly collaborative the whole thing was.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)?
I’d say it is a mixture between having such burdensome restrictions on data sharing and finding additional ways to leverage data. I think these go hand-in-hand because by being able to share more data, we can get access to more as well, and that can allow us to solve more problems we encounter in health surveillance.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
In my spare time I like to read math books or as I like to call them - “novels”. I’ll read a neat theorem, with a long island at hand, and think “Hmm… an interesting development” or a challenging proof and say to myself, “My my, that escalated quickly”. I’m totally joking here. Just like learning to program can be fun because it’s like solving different puzzles, learning math can also be highly fulfilling if you enjoy tackling logic puzzles.
If you were not an epidemiologist, what would you be?
Tough question because I have many interests… Magic Harold? I think the idea of being an applied mathematician sounds fun; though the reality of it for me might end up feeling like a highly unpleasant experience!