Zachary Faigen, MSPH, REHS is an Enhanced Surveillance Epidemiologist in the Division of Public Health, Communicable Disease Branch or the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and is a member of the NSSP Steering Committee. We asked him a few questions about his career and interests so you could get to know him. Here are his answers.
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 during my application process with the Maryland Department of Health. I quickly decided it was an area of interest for me because I wanted the job. And because it sounded like a fascinating way to apply my knowledge of epidemiology.
What do you do?
I am currently the enhanced disease surveillance epidemiologist for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That is a fancy way of saying I am the epidemiologist that works with the syndromic surveillance system in NC, known as NC DETECT.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy that there is always something else to do. What I mean by that is there are so many different uses for the data that the job does not get boring. The primary focus in NC is communicable disease, but the data is also used for environmental health, injury prevention, preparedness and response, mental health, chronic disease, etc.
What excites you in the work you do?
Seeing the data that I work with daily used to advance public health, whether this is through routine surveillance, outbreak response, preparedness or response to an event, academic publications, etc. It is exciting knowing that what you are doing for a living can make a difference.
Who or what inspires you professionally?
My coworkers and colleagues in epidemiology and surveillance. Interacting with them daily and learning about all the work they are doing to protect public health can be very inspiring.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)?
My proudest professional accomplishment occurred during my time with the Maryland Department of Health. We expanded the syndromic surveillance system to include school absenteeism data, and in the process, we made Maryland the first state in the US to collect data from all public schools for health surveillance.
How long have you been involved with ISDS?
I have been involved with ISDS in some form since 2010.
Why are you an ISDS member?
I enjoy interacting with and learning from others in the surveillance community.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership?
I value all the opportunities that ISDS provides to interact with others in the surveillance community.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)?
I believe the biggest issue in disease surveillance is proving that the data and practice is effective, and also a worthwhile investment. These systems cannot exist without funding, and the funding will not exist without proof of value. The issue is finding ways to prove this value, because surveillance success stories do not often have measurable, tangible results such as number of lives saved or number of cases of disease prevented.
What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I did not live in the US until the age of 7. I was born in Japan and then lived in Germany.
If you could meet anyone living or deceased, who would it be?
That is a very tough question. Right now, I think I would have to say Chris Cornell. He has been my favorite musician since I was a kid. It was very unfortunate that he passed away so young. I am grateful that I had the chance to see him in concert before he died.
If you were not an epidemiologist, what would you be?
If I was not an epidemiologist I would be a movie critic. Although if I wanted to have a house and be able to eat, I would have a more realistic career, probably as a pharmacist.