Epidemiologist Profile – Paul Etkind, DrPH, MPH
Master’s in public health from Yale University, 1976
Doctorate in public health from Yale University, 1998
Epidemiology, Paul Etkind likes to say, is analogous to a Swiss Army Knife: it’s "useful in many different ways and settings, and very amenable to creative use." Etkind would know. Over the course of a nearly 30-plus-year career, he has worked for several different states and in different facets of public health. He’s served as the director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Control and as deputy director of the city of Nashua, NH’s Division of Public Health and Community Services. For the past four years, he has worked for the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Washington, DC, first as a Senior Analyst for Immunizations and now as Senior Director of Infectious Diseases.
Question: What drew you to the field of epidemiology?
Etkind: "I had a strong interest in entomology as well as in health during my undergraduate days. When I learned there was a field of Medical Entomology, I pursued that via public health school for my MPH. I really enjoyed the epidemiology courses and the way they combined multi-disciplinary backgrounds: sociology, anthropology, biology, health, statistics, clinical information, etc. It was exciting and stimulating that it drew from so many different domains."
Question: Why did you continue to pursue advanced degrees in the field? How has that benefited you in your career?
Etkind: "I enjoyed the technical work at the MPH level, and still do. However, I realized that I wanted to be more active at the policy level, and felt that a doctoral degree would make me more competitive for positions at that level. I feel that the DrPH did exactly that for me."
Question: What do you enjoy about your work? What challenges, developments or successes keep it exciting to you?
Etkind: "I enjoy the variability of the work: you never know what each day will bring, or what the next email or phone call might bring. Outbreaks or unusual case investigations were always exciting — mysteries looking for solutions. It can be fast-paced. It requires that you stay current with what is happening, so it is stimulating to have to be up-to-date. You can’t afford to get comfortable, and that keeps things fresh. You can get a sense of how you are affecting people’s lives as well as improving the health and healthcare systems with what you learn from investigations or from trying to apply policies/interventions to prevent or control disease. The current emphasis on social justice and moving our ‘gaze’ upstream to the social determinants of health rather than on individual risk factors is an exciting shift in the profession. Trying to write for publications is also rewarding; you contribute to the profession’s understanding and you leave a footprint of your work and accomplishments."
Question: What advice do you have for people just starting their education or their professional career who are considering going into advanced healthcare practices?
Etkind: "Ideas and inspiration can come from many sources, so don?t restrict your focus on your academic endeavors. Relevant summer jobs or internships can also be in different settings: labs, research groups, health departments, social service agencies, almost anywhere could be rewarding. The tools of epidemiology can be used in so many settings — the training you receive can be applied to problems in almost any human endeavor."