Student Interview Teams

This model practice describes successful strategies for incorporating student interview teams into a state or local health department’s foodborne disease surveillance and outbreak response activities and provides a checklist of tasks for operating a student team using the FoodCORE model practice.


State and local public health agencies are the frontline for disease surveillance and response activities. 1,2 A 2010 survey of state foodborne disease programs identified the need for additional staff to reach full capacity.3 Patients with foodborne diseases are the best source of information about what they’ve eaten that may have transmitted their illnesses. Detailed interviewing of cases as soon as possible after their illnesses is recognized is the key to implicating food vehicles. Such interviewing is labor-intensive, so insufficient capacity can directly affect the completeness and timeliness of individual case investigation and outbreak response activities and the ability to participate in multijurisdictional activities. This decreases the effectiveness of detecting, responding to, and controlling multijurisdictional outbreaks. 4,5

To address capacity needs, specifically the need for additional interviewing capacity, state and local health departments have collaborated with academic institutions to recruit students preparing for careers in public health as temporary surge capacity or as an integrated component of their surveillance and outbreak response teams. Student teams have improved the ability to respond to and solve outbreaks in some jurisdictions, while providing the students with real-world public health experience. As of 2010, approximately 25% of accredited schools of public health reported having established some form of student response team.6 Please see FoodCORE’s full list of peer-reviewed publications describing student response teams (Appendix D) Cdc-pdf[PDF – 1 page].

In some state and local health departments, student volunteers have provided short-term surge capacity during specific events or responses. In other jurisdictions, including eight FoodCORE centers, paid standing teams of students have contributed to daily disease surveillance and response activities of the health department in addition to providing surge capacity for specific investigations and events. Including students in routine activities provides a more well-rounded experience and valuable training for students. For example, routine interviewing provides opportunities to practice and improve interviewing skills outside of an acute response when resources and time to train may be limited.

Little information is found in the published literature about establishing and maintaining student-based teams within public health agencies. The FoodCORE Model Practice: Student Interview Teams is intended to describe the practices used in FoodCORE centers to establish, implement, and maintain teams of students for public health surveillance and response activities, focusing on illnesses likely transmitted via food. The specific roles and responsibilities of student teams vary across jurisdictions and include conducting routine case-patient interviews, assisting with surge capacity during a response to a specific outbreak or event, data entry, and special projects.

This model practice describes successful strategies for incorporating student interview teams into a state or local health department. FoodCORE also provides:

  1. M’Ikanatha N M, Rice DH, Altekruse SF. Strategic use of state and local regulatory and public health surveillance resources to address the growing demand for food safety oversight in the United States. Foodborne pathogens and disease. Dec 2008;5(6):747-753.
  2. Hoffman RE, Greenblatt J, Matyas BT, et al. Capacity of state and territorial health agencies to prevent foodborne illness. Emerging infectious diseases. Jan 2005;11(1):11-16.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The epidemiology workforce in state and local health departments – United States, 2010. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. Mar 30 2012;61(12):205-208.
  4. Hedberg CW, Greenblatt JF, Matyas BT, et al. Timeliness of enteric disease surveillance in 6 US states. Emerging infectious diseases. Feb 2008;14(2):311-313.
  5. Murphree R, Garman K, Phan Q, Everstine K, Gould LH, Jones TF. Characteristics of foodborne disease outbreak investigations conducted by Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) sites, 2003-2008. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Jun 2012;54 Suppl 5:S498-50
  6. Pogreba-Brown K, Harris RB, Stewart J, Anderson S, Erhart LM, England B. Outbreak investigation partnerships: