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Alumni Profile        An idea, of SORTS

RSPH alumni Sara Forsting and Charlie Ishikawa, who work for the DeKalb County Department of Health, are giving students hands-on experience in conducting outbreak investigations.

  Sara Forsting, MSPH01, an epidemiologist at the DeKalb County Board of Health Center for Public Health Preparedness, had an idea. She envisioned a more active collaboration between academic public health and local public health. In the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research at her alma mater, the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH), Forsting found a receptive partner for her idea.

The result is the Student Outbreak Response Team (SORT). Modeled on a similar organization at Johns Hopkins University, the Atlanta SORT gives student volunteers hands-on experience in conducting outbreak investigations with specialized training in developing surveys, tracing contacts, and interviewing. In turn, the DeKalb County Board of Health receives additional manpower to handle everyday investigations as well as epidemiologic surges.

Forsting came to her career in local public health through a summer internship, which turned into a permanent position. She understands the value students can bring to the county health department, and she wants to promote the use of student interns in the local public health community. “We can use their skills,” she says. “Plus they can learn that this is a viable place to work. There are great public health opportunities right down the street.”

The first 15 students participating in the SORT pilot have an opportunity to get involved with a variety of projects at the county health department. For example, one student recently entered qualitative and quantitative data from a smallpox consent evaluation project, analyzing information from 40 surveys. Another group of students joined health department researchers to interview patients and staff involved in a gastrointestinal outbreak at a local assisted care facility.

The students also attend lectures organized through SORT, and they receive mini-training sessions that supplement their classes at the RSPH. The lectures bring a taste of local public health to the entire RSPH community, highlighting such community efforts as the handling of West Nile virus this past summer. The training sessions include a range of information from food-borne illnesses to infectious disease outbreaks.

Having the students on board is a boost to public health in DeKalb County, says Forsting. “You can’t schedule an outbreak. We’re very busy sometimes, but we don’t know when that will be. The students can help us handle the overflow work while gaining some useful experience.“

Spring 2003 Issue | Dean's Message | In Brief | The Legacy of Childhood Nutrition
Strong Partners | This News Could Save Your Life | Class Notes
Rollins School of Public Health

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