In April 2021, Abir Rahman learned he had landed a position as Director of Epidemiology at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department (CHHD) in West Virginia. At the time, he was a graduate assistant and was completing a doctorate. at Stempel College, working alongside public health experts like miguel cano on the impacts of socio-cultural stressors on the health of ethnic minorities.
“I always wanted to do epidemiology and field research,” says Rahman. “This position would allow me to do both.
Born and raised in Bangladesh, Rahman previously worked as a doctor in Dhaka. “I started thinking about public health and thought if I was going to leave my clinical practice and start studying it, I would do it in the United States because they have some of the best public health programs in the world. world,” he said. So, after applying to public health schools, he went to East Tennessee State University on an international merit scholarship and a graduate scholarship to get his master’s degree in public health with a focus on epidemiology. This is where he chose to secure a doctorate at Stempel College.
Today, Rahman uses the knowledge and skills he gained through his PhD program to help respond to the current pandemic. We chatted with him to find out more about what he does and what advice he would give to students.
Rahman: Initially, I expected to work in the field, but with this role came more opportunities and broader responsibilities like managing a department. I am very grateful that they gave me this responsibility from the beginning. When I arrived we were experiencing a surge of COVID-19 and many COVID cases were coming. I never had the opportunity to work on case investigations in school, but now I can work on it in my current role.
What does working on a case investigation entail?
Rahman: When a person tests positive, their test result is distributed to the appropriate jurisdiction. In our service, we contact the person who was tested, obtain information such as their demographics and ask questions about how they potentially contracted COVID. Case investigators gather information and determine next steps. We answer questions, help share COVID protocol, and then help them self-isolate. We also tell them what to do if someone were to be exposed by them.
What else is your department working on due to the pandemic?
Rahman: We also manage outbreaks and monitor disease trends. Different institutions have different definitions of an outbreak. For example, if a resident of a long-term care facility tests positive, we will contact the facility and advise administrators on how to stay safe and prevent the spread of infection. We are also helping by coordinating and connecting them with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Health Command, which would arrange and pay for COVID testing expenses for the facility.
An example of monitoring disease trends would be to review the age distribution of COVID cases and notify our community partners, including hospitals, educational institutions in our jurisdiction, etc., so that they can be better prepared. Our health department is one of the best-staffed and best-funded health departments in West Virginia. Thus, we can conduct many case investigations, outbreak management and other tasks that provide operational intelligence.
You jumped right into the pandemic response. Does your role come with other responsibilities?
Rahman: Since accepting this position, case investigations and outbreak management have taken up most of my time. However, I was also tasked with expanding the epidemiology department within the health department. So right now I have three other epidemiologists on my team, and I also have several staff members working as case investigators and case assignors. I believe I was also hired because of my research experience. I know our department’s vision is to expand our research, so I’m looking forward to it. At the moment we are in talks with several universities regarding potential/ongoing research projects.
What has been the most remarkable thing in your current position so far?
Rahman: There are six other administrators within CHHD, and I am the youngest of them. I was like, okay, I’m working as a department head at 34, along with others who have years of experience running their respective departments. I couldn’t believe it at first and at the same time I was grateful to have such a good working environment. One realization was that all of the hard work and support I received from my family, my peers, my homeroom teacher Dr. Cano, and CRF helped me land where I am right now. moment. I guess that’s the coolest thing I’ve felt that happened to me.
What advice do you have for those starting the job search process?
Rahman: When you know you’re about to graduate and you have about five to six months left until you graduate, start writing your resume. Do your research on potential places where you would like to apply. Create an Excel spreadsheet and track the jobs you apply for and the results. Also, do not hesitate to apply for places that meet your criteria but are of a slightly higher level. Students often wonder if they will be able to handle positions like this, especially if they have never had a job before. So I would advise them to keep an open mind. There are opportunities everywhere.