‘Like a kid in a candy store’: EIS officers explain matching process

Each year, CDC officials and representatives from state health departments around the country conduct what amount to job interviews with members of the incoming class of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

The matching process, as it is known, occurs during the EIS conference in Atlanta each spring and helps determine where each EIS officer will spend his or her 2 years in the program. The process is “like a crazy version of speed dating,” one current EIS officer told Infectious Disease News. Former CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, who was an EIS officer in the early 1990s, called it “exciting and sometimes stressful.” Some incoming officers are overwhelmed by the possibilities.

Rachel Burke
Rachel Burke, PhD, MPH, a first-year officer in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Services, is pictured in the agency’s Emergency Operations Center at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
Source: Natalie Duggan

“I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Rachel Burke, PhD, MPH, a first-year EIS officer on the viral gastroenteritis team, said.

There do not seem to be many rules. Months after they are accepted, many incoming EIS officers arrive at the conference unsure about how they will spend their time in the program. Their options include working in a group within the CDC or taking a position at a state or local health department.

According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former EIS officers, a lot of it comes down to personality. Burke called it “the airport test.”

 “Sometimes you’re going to be tired, you’re going to be in some random location working hard and you’re wondering, ‘Is this someone I want to be stuck with in Boise, Idaho, at the airport at 3 a.m.?’ ” Burke said. “Apparently, somebody thought that might be me.”

Often, incoming officers will develop a rapport with someone during an interview and decide to go down an unexpected path, like a young ER doctor who chooses to work in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch despite not having any experience in fungal diseases, or a veterinarian from Mississippi who picks the Minnesota Department of Health.

“For me, it was hard to narrow down,” Burke said. “What attracted me to the position I ultimately matched with first and foremost was the people.”

Others are attracted to specific challenges, leading them to pick a certain CDC group. Vikram Krishnasamy, MD, MPH, a first-year EIS officer in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, said he wanted to study diseases that cause frequent outbreaks.

Photo of Vikram Krishnasamy
Vikram Krishnasamy

“It’s an all-encompassing training that sets you up well for whatever you do in the future,” he explained.

In contrast, selecting a state health department means you will be responding to a wide range of infectious diseases and working on the front lines of disease outbreaks.

“We get to hop from area to area,” Mary-Margaret Anne Fill, MD, a second-year EIS officer who works in the communicable diseases division at the Tennessee Department of Health, said.

Photo of Mary-Margaret Anne Fill
Mary-Margaret Anne Fill

Fill’s second day on the job involved working on a Cryptosporidium outbreak in Memphis. She investigated a man’s death in rural Tennessee from the Heartland virus and said the results of that investigation not only gave members of the patient’s family closure, they spurred them to become advocates of public health who raised awareness in the community about tickborne diseases. Fill said she still communicates with the patient’s son via email.

“When we work with large data sets, sometimes it’s easy to forget that these are human beings that we’re counting,” she said. “But it’s also not uncommon, especially at the state level, to work with individual families and communities. And then the very real human aspect of it is ever-present and in the forefront of what we’re doing. We did a public health service to them, but they helped us even more.” by Gerard Gallagher

To return to the Infectious Disease News cover story on the EIS, click here.

Each year, CDC officials and representatives from state health departments around the country conduct what amount to job interviews with members of the incoming class of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

The matching process, as it is known, occurs during the EIS conference in Atlanta each spring and helps determine where each EIS officer will spend his or her 2 years in the program. The process is “like a crazy version of speed dating,” one current EIS officer told Infectious Disease News. Former CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, who was an EIS officer in the early 1990s, called it “exciting and sometimes stressful.” Some incoming officers are overwhelmed by the possibilities.

Rachel Burke
Rachel Burke, PhD, MPH, a first-year officer in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Services, is pictured in the agency’s Emergency Operations Center at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
Source: Natalie Duggan

“I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Rachel Burke, PhD, MPH, a first-year EIS officer on the viral gastroenteritis team, said.

There do not seem to be many rules. Months after they are accepted, many incoming EIS officers arrive at the conference unsure about how they will spend their time in the program. Their options include working in a group within the CDC or taking a position at a state or local health department.

According to interviews with more than a dozen current and former EIS officers, a lot of it comes down to personality. Burke called it “the airport test.”

 “Sometimes you’re going to be tired, you’re going to be in some random location working hard and you’re wondering, ‘Is this someone I want to be stuck with in Boise, Idaho, at the airport at 3 a.m.?’ ” Burke said. “Apparently, somebody thought that might be me.”

Often, incoming officers will develop a rapport with someone during an interview and decide to go down an unexpected path, like a young ER doctor who chooses to work in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch despite not having any experience in fungal diseases, or a veterinarian from Mississippi who picks the Minnesota Department of Health.

“For me, it was hard to narrow down,” Burke said. “What attracted me to the position I ultimately matched with first and foremost was the people.”

Others are attracted to specific challenges, leading them to pick a certain CDC group. Vikram Krishnasamy, MD, MPH, a first-year EIS officer in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, said he wanted to study diseases that cause frequent outbreaks.

Photo of Vikram Krishnasamy
Vikram Krishnasamy

“It’s an all-encompassing training that sets you up well for whatever you do in the future,” he explained.

In contrast, selecting a state health department means you will be responding to a wide range of infectious diseases and working on the front lines of disease outbreaks.

“We get to hop from area to area,” Mary-Margaret Anne Fill, MD, a second-year EIS officer who works in the communicable diseases division at the Tennessee Department of Health, said.

Photo of Mary-Margaret Anne Fill
Mary-Margaret Anne Fill

Fill’s second day on the job involved working on a Cryptosporidium outbreak in Memphis. She investigated a man’s death in rural Tennessee from the Heartland virus and said the results of that investigation not only gave members of the patient’s family closure, they spurred them to become advocates of public health who raised awareness in the community about tickborne diseases. Fill said she still communicates with the patient’s son via email.

“When we work with large data sets, sometimes it’s easy to forget that these are human beings that we’re counting,” she said. “But it’s also not uncommon, especially at the state level, to work with individual families and communities. And then the very real human aspect of it is ever-present and in the forefront of what we’re doing. We did a public health service to them, but they helped us even more.” by Gerard Gallagher

To return to the Infectious Disease News cover story on the EIS, click here.