2016 SAFETP Graduates Largest Class to Date
The largest group of South Africa Field Epidemiology Training Program residents to graduate on time, 9 in total, recently completed their training and were awarded Master of Public Health Degrees at the April 2016 graduation ceremony held at the University of Pretoria – a noteworthy achievement. The 9 graduates were part of the group of 13 residents who completed the 2 year residency in December 2015, having started in 2014. 60 residents have graduated and been awarded public health degrees since the SAFETP program began in 2006.
“This is the largest number of graduates at any one time since inception of the program in 2006. It is testimony to how well these residents have applied themselves to attaining their competencies within the assigned two year time frame and to the commitment and dedication of the SAFETP team which includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) South Africa employed support staff. This is indeed a fine example for the current cohorts as it sets a new benchmark demonstrating all that is possible with hard work and good support,” said Dr. Carl Reddy, Director SA Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
SAFETP is a two-year hands-on -training program in applied epidemiology. SAFETP‘s mission is to develop field epidemiology capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. To this end SAFETP:
- Provides a platform for building field epidemiology capacity;
- Builds competency in outbreak investigation, disease surveillance, data analysis, and public health research through a two year residency, and short courses;
- Nurtures a culture of health professionals utilizing evidence based approaches to drive programs and inform policy decisions; and
- Aligns program activities with national health priorities.
“As the Field Epidemiology Training Program in South Africa celebrate its 10th year in existence, it is very gratifying to see that the program is not only fulfilling its goal of providing the country with trained field epidemiologists, but is also enhancing the career opportunities of participants in the program through access to graduate level education. The new graduating class has fully seized this opportunity by fulfilling their academic requirements while strengthening the public health system,” said CDC South Africa’s Timothy Doyle, Resident Advisor to the Field Epidemiology Training Program.
Exciting times ahead
“I almost can’t believe that the time has come for graduation,” said graduate Erika Britz. She came to hear about the SAFETP Program by chance, always having had an interest in Public Health but not being sure how to get involved in the field. “I saw the call for applications for the FETP program in a medical journal and decided to take a chance and apply.”
It has offered her a completely new and exciting career path, said Britz. “I have had the opportunity to stay on at my field placement site (the Centre for Opportunistic, Tropical and Hospital Infections at the NICD) and would like to work as an epidemiologist at the NICD for a few years at least. I would consider studying further in the field of hospital epidemiology in the future.”
A dream come true
Graduate Hetani Ngobeni said she felt both elated and humbled at the same time to be graduating on the day. “It’s been a long way coming but with determination, support and faith all things have been possible. The FETP program is one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken and to see myself eventually graduating brings great feelings of relief and pride.”
The whole process has been a learning curve for her. “Coming from a social science background, this program has been a huge learning curve in its entirety. You can imagine the many hurdles I have had to overcome. However, this has been an exciting total paradigm shift. Learning to quantify community problems and applying scientifically proven methods in solving those challenges has thus far been the most pivotal lesson for me,” explained Ngobeni.
Her hard work and persistent efforts eventually culminated in joining the FETP program as staff member. “Being now able to train other aspiring public health practitioners is a dream come true for me personally,” said Ngobeni, adding that she believes there is a great need of more field epidemiologist in the country and in the continent as a whole. “Having completed the program gives me an opportunity to do what I always loved, teaching and training in order to strengthen the applied field epidemiology capacity widely.”
Renewed responsibility to serve
“It feels really good to be graduating – this day does not only mark the beginning of a new career path, but it also marks a significant milestone in my life characterized with a renewed responsibility to serve the broader community. I think I have acquired the necessary skills and expertise to discharge this responsibility to the best of my ability. I feel ready to join the existing cadre of field epidemiologists who work tirelessly to build the field epidemiology capacity in our country and beyond its borders,” said graduate Thobani Ntshiqa.
He was placed at the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) for his residency training, with SANAC being a relatively new site without access to large data bases, a surveillance system, and routine outbreaks. “In order to accomplish all the training requirements we had to liaise with different stakeholders and health departments which were outside SANAC. Our engagement with these departments has taught us a lifelong lesson that public health is a group effort that needs a collaborative approach. Therefore there is a greater need to develop strong interpersonal skills,” said Ntshiqa, adding that there were quite a number of memorable moments for him in the program.
“While working at SANAC, I was involved in a number of activities including planning and attending the plenary sessions that were normally chaired by the deputy president of the country. These sessions provided an opportunity to network, learn and exchange ideas with high profile politicians, activists and leading academics in the country. The same can be said about attending international conferences. They did not only present a learning experience but they also presented an opportunity to intermingle and network with a group of eminent academics and prominent international experts in different fields of science.”
As a result he believes the programme has not only equipped him with the skills that would help him establish himself as a public health specialist, but it has also exposed him to the real world with real problems that need practical solutions. “During the course of my training I have discovered that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. My next hill to climb, among others, is pursuing a PhD with emphasis on transforming rural public health and health care systems,” said Ntshiqa.
The right balance
Graduate Mandla Mlotshwa first heard about the FETP program in 2007 from one of his colleagues at the NICD who was doing his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at that time. Shortly after graduating with a Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2013, he felt that he needed to expand his epidemiology and statistical knowledge. “The FETP program has provided me with the right balance of strong theoretical foundation and practical applications of conducting outbreak investigations, public health program evaluations, surveillance evaluation techniques as well as analytical tools that are relevant to analyze large data sets to inform public health decisions and policies,” said Mlotshwa.
He adds that he always wanted to gain knowledge on epidemiological and statistical tools that he can use as a scientist to improve the implementation of public health interventions and programs in South Africa. “As I aspire to work in academia, the FETP program has broadened my knowledge of epidemiological study design and analytical tools that are used in public health research to conduct and contextualize hypothesis driven research. I also think that I am now ready to use my epidemiological and scientific skills to nurture young promising scientists to further their career in public health, which is much needed in South Africa,” said Mlotshwa.