Building a Global FETP Alumni Network: TEPHIConnect’s Link to Regional Alumni Programs
Global surveys of field epidemiology training programs indicate that there are now at least 12,000 FETP graduates working across the world. This cadre of professionals forms a skilled public health workforce that can be mobilized to respond to disease outbreaks. Yet, efforts to track and communicate with FETP alumni at the global level have been few, until now.
Through its online FETP alumni network, TEPHIConnect, TEPHINET has created the system architecture for a global FETP alumni database. Eligible members are FETP graduates from all countries and all program levels (basic, intermediate and advanced). The TEPHIConnect platform has the functionalities to be used not only as a social networking tool by graduates, but also as an alumni tracking and outreach tool for programs—as well as a source of potential responders for deploying agencies including, but not limited to, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN).
“TEPHIConnect can be thought of as an umbrella—a glue to bind the alumni networking and mobilization efforts already being undertaken by FETP networks in different regions of the world, who are some of our closest partners in this initiative,” says TEPHINET project manager Lisandro Torre, who oversees TEPHIConnect.
Torre, who spent five years working as an epidemiologist with the Emergency Response and Recovery Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sees TEPHIConnect as an opportunity for TEPHINET to learn from the experiences of its partners in establishing effective alumni programs.
For example, in 2018, the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) established the AFENET Corps of Disease Detectives (ACoDD), a civil voluntary service of field epidemiologists based on the One Health approach. The purpose of ACoDD is to create public health emergency rapid response teams consisting of skilled FETP graduates. AFENET also maintains Epi-Track, a database of African FETP graduates.
“TEPHIConnect is a great resource,” says Simon Antara, AFENET’s director of programs. “AFENET’s efforts to provide opportunities for networking, continuous learning, rapid mobilization and deployment of alumni to promptly respond to public health emergencies will be greatly complemented by TEPHIConnect. A strong collaboration between the leadership of AFENET Corps of Disease Detectives and that of TEPHIConnect will greatly benefit our alumni and public health.”
Meanwhile, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET) recently launched EpiShares, an online networking platform for public health professionals across the region.
“There are definitely many opportunities for collaboration between the regional networks and TEPHINET/TEPHIConnect, as we all share the same goal of creating opportunities for FETP alumni, whether in the area of career enhancement or continued education,” says Dana Shalabi, team lead for communications and networking at EMPHNET. “The desired outcome within all these networks and TEPHINET/TEPHIConnect is the same, as we all strive to find ways in which the wealth of knowledge provided across each platform could benefit alumni across the globe.”
Antara, Shalabi and other members of the TEPHIConnect Steering Committee convened in Atlanta from December 3-4 for a planning meeting to define the TEPHIConnect strategy through 2020. They identified TEPHIConnect’s role as one of collaboration with each regional network to share knowledge and opportunities.
Participants also discussed how TEPHIConnect can align with TEPHINET’s current effort to create a new strategy for supporting continuous learning within the FETP community. One aspect seems clear: TEPHIConnect is an ideal platform for sharing tools and information to enhance FETP graduates’ skills.
Amrish Baidjoe, current president of the EPIET Alumni Network, serves on the TEPHIConnect Steering Committee and has a deep interest in ways that TEPHINET can support continuous learning.
“FETPs are increasingly becoming key disseminators and users of operational analytical methods and tools. Therefore, it important to keep updating the skillset and toolbox of FETP graduates,” says Baidjoe.
At TEPHINET, Torre encourages FETP alumni to make sure they are registered on TEPHIConnect and that their user accounts are active. “Sign up, engage, and keep your profile up-to-date,” he recommends.
Then, TEPHIConnect members should keep an eye out for updates on the platform and requests for information during the first quarter of 2019 as TEPHINET finds new ways to engage with the FETP alumni network and highlight the excellent work alumni are doing globally.
“Our partnerships with the regional FETP networks and with organizations like the CDC and GOARN will help us realize the TEPHIConnect’s potential for emergency response deployment,” says Torre. “In 2019, alumni will see more opportunities in emergency response, career development and learning.”
FETP graduates can sign up for free at tephiconnect.org. The platform is available in English, Spanish, and French.