Spotlight on FETP Mentorship: Five Mentors Share Their Perspectives

The two-year Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) is a hands-on, learning-by-doing experience in which trainees (also known as residents or fellows) are involved in the production of several outputs. In the field, FETP trainees investigate disease outbreaks, evaluate public health surveillance systems, develop hypothesis-driven research projects, and analyze large databases. In addition, they are required to write protocols, reports, abstracts to submit to conferences, and manuscripts to submit to journals. They must also hone their presentation skills for stakeholder meetings and conferences. In order to attain all of these competencies, they work under the supervision of qualified and experienced mentors and supervisors.

“An excellent set of teaching modules with inadequate mentorship does not result in well-trained field epidemiologists,” says Dr. Carl Reddy, the director of TEPHINET. “Good mentorship facilitates the residents acquiring the core competencies that they need to promote and protect the health of the populations they serve.”

Mentors are qualified and experienced professionals with the specific expertise and strong interpersonal skills needed to support, guide, nurture and discipline FETP trainees. Well-established FETPs often draw from their alumni pool to identify mentors, while newer programs may experience challenges finding mentors and may draw from non-FETP-trained employees of relevant organizations who then undergo specialized training to understand the FETP context and deliverables.

Below, five current and former FETP mentors share their perspectives on the significance and challenges of FETP mentorship.


 

Dr. Yingxin Pei: Mentor, China Field Epidemiology Training Program

What role does mentorship play during and after one's FETP training?

Mentorship is the soul of FETP training; one qualified mentor can guide the development of one resident, not only in improving his or her expertise in outputs (such as outbreak investigation, surveillance data analysis and planned studies, etc.) but also in creating an atmosphere for career development and making a commitment to public health practice through effective emergency response and capacity building.

In what capacity have you served as a mentor?

As a mentor, I have a passion for instructing residents about their diverse outputs. I’m always positive and, accordingly, have a powerful impact on the residents, which is helpful for them to keep moving and to solve the problems they will probably face in the field. Secondly, I keep improving myself through instructing the residents and transforming the accumulated experience and knowledge through guidance. At last, I’m patient and communicate with the residents well.

In your view, why is mentorship important?

FETP training focuses not only on knowledge and learning but also advocates for critical thinking and spiritual development. Also, FETP training takes the approach of “learning by doing." Mentors are usually well-equipped with essential and relevant experiences and expertise through their FETP resident training, so mentorship is vital for guiding new residents through such a “learning by doing” transfer. The capacity of the entire FETP training community can be built and enhanced gradually to fulfill the ultimate goal to serve the public through constant capacity building.

In your view, can mentorship help strengthen public health systems? How?

Definitely! Mentorship can help strengthen the public health system through long-term and ongoing workforce capacity building and integrate network establishment. Furthermore, the accomplishments of the residents can gain approval from authorities and raise the awareness of the public, which would be helpful for the development of the health system, both in workforce development and infrastructure enhancement. It is a positive cycle to strengthen the public health system for mentorship.

What are the challenges in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists?

First, the number of eligible mentors may not be initially adequate, which may even be reduced by some quitting and changing their jobs. Secondly, many mentors are part-time and sometimes cannot provide timely guidance. Finally, communication between some mentors and residents still needs to be improved.

What is the greatest lesson you've learned from one of your mentors (ideally through FETP/FELTP/EIS)?

Keep learning is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from my mentor, which not only benefits myself but also benefits the residents through my transfer and modeling.

Dr. Erika Valeska Rossetto: CDC Resident Advisor to the Mozambique Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program

What role does mentorship play during and after one's FETP training?

The role of a mentor is to support and guide the resident to develop the knowledge necessary to perform their work and achieve and complete FELTP requirements and to prepare them for career growth.

In what capacity have you served as a mentor?

I started my mentoring activities during my second year of FETP training in Brazil in 2007 during a rubella outbreak investigation. Since then, I've developed mentoring in different countries besides Brazil, such as Paraguay, Angola and Mozambique. My mentoring has been in different areas, such as outbreak investigation, health surveillance system evaluation, advanced epidemiological data analyzes, and also, theses.

In your view, why is mentorship important?

Mentorship is important because it is often provided by someone who has already walked the path that a resident wants to take and who can help them move with more focus, strategy, planning, intelligence and efficiency.

In your view, can mentorship help strengthen public health systems? How?

Certainly! The mentor has developed skills, competences and experiences to see, broadly, the context of a situation and the possibilities for action. Their previous experiences strengthen the methodology, results and recommendations of epidemiological studies to impact public health.

What are the challenges in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists?

The mentor has to be dedicated, patient, polite. He or she must be up-to-date and never stop studying and participating in discussion groups and networking. It is often additional and voluntary work. So, the required dedication is great, and not everyone has this profile or availability.

What is the greatest lesson you've learned from one of your mentors (ideally through FETP/FELTP/EIS)?

The best mentoring is when the resident outperforms his mentor! I have several graduates mentoring now, and I hope that my students do better than me.

Dr. David Sugerman: CDC Resident Advisor to the Ethiopia Field Epidemiology Training Program

What role does mentorship play during and after one's FETP training?

EIS and FETP are apprenticeship programs, where the role of mentorship continues to sharpen the skill of mentors. Also, serving as a mentor keeps that excitement of field epidemiology ever present, allowing you to live vicariously through the experiences of a new trainee.

In what capacity have you served as a mentor?

I’ve been able to directly mentor EIS and FETP residents while at the [CDC] Global Immunization Division, supporting polio response in northern Nigeria; at the National Injury Center on post-disaster injury surveillance and a National Burn Surveillance System in India; at FETP-HQ supporting the development of NCD tracks in multiple countries, and finally now in Ethiopia through a myriad of field projects.

In your view, why is mentorship important?

Mentorship is the most crucial factor in any apprenticeship-based training program, be it clinical medicine or field epidemiology. While residents must learn the fundamentals of epidemiology (often in a classroom setting by academic faculty) the ins and out of field work from selecting important topics to investigate to the data collection tools, analysis, reporting, and health communication that follow are honed through mentorship. As Ethiopia’s Resident Advisor, I’ve reviewed resident projects with only academic mentorship. They demonstrate sound methodology but fail to answer pressing questions that could be used to improve public health practice.

In your view, can mentorship help strengthen public health systems? How?

Yes, mentorship is critical to a public health system, helping develop and build on best practices in disease surveillance and outbreak investigations.

What are the challenges in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists?

Unlike EIS, where graduated staff at the CDC are well compensated and EIS mentorship remains of high value for the agency, FETP graduates join public health systems which aren’t always familiar with the program or the importance of mentorship. Graduates are overburdened by a myriad of competing responsibilities, seldom provided protected time to mentor.

What is the greatest lesson you've learned from one of your mentors (ideally through FETP/FELTP/EIS)?

Charlie LeBaron, who has since retired from CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, taught me the art of manuscript writing. As with magazines and newspapers, he said, readers first go to your figures and tables -- make those visually appealing and impactful, and the story will follow. I’ve tried to instill the same skill in the residents I mentor.

Dr. Fehminaz Temel: Director and Mentor of the Turkey Field Epidemiology Training Program

What role does mentorship play during and after one's FETP training?

Mentors play an important role in imparting new knowledge and motivating and encouraging the fellows. They also nurture the fellow’s professional interests, oversee the fellow’s progress, and support the fellow. They also help and influence the fellows and protect their interests in the field.

In what capacity have you served as a mentor?

I have been serving as a mentor since 2012. We established the Turkey FETP in 2012 under the Ministry of Health. I became a mentor and the director of the FETP. I am a medical doctor, a public health specialist, and an epidemiologist. We established the program with the support of CDC and a European Union-funded project and worked with two experts for three years, one of whom was from a university in Turkey and the other a technical expert and EIS graduate from the World Health Organization.

In your view, why is mentorship important?

In an FETP, the mentors are the backbone of the program. The fellows need to be listened to, encouraged in their work, monitored, and need good communication and coaching. They need timely feedback. There is need of a person who can fulfill this position.

In your view, can mentorship help strengthen public health systems? How?

Mentorship can strengthen public health systems as mentors are experienced field epidemiologists who ensure that FETP fellows receive a complete and well-rounded experience in surveillance, epidemiologic investigations, taking public health action and communicating public health information.

What are the challenges in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists?

Effective mentorship requires leadership, good communication, motivation, enthusiasm, creativeness and patience. Thus, finding an effective mentor is always a challenge. In our program, we select mentors among our graduated fellows. We monitor the process they go through and pick those who we believe fulfill the criteria. We monitor the work they do and assign them as mentors. However, during the process, they need to be evaluated regularly to ensure that they provide effective mentorship.

So many challenges exist in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists, such as the demand of a good salary, motivation, sustainability of the program, selection of fellows, assignments, etc.

Motivating the mentors, like motivating the fellows, is also essential. In my opinion, mentors should also have opportunities to update their knowledge in the field and join conferences to refresh their knowledge in order to be able to follow changes in systems. They need to be supported so that they can feel they are still part of the public health system, "not just trainers."

What is the greatest lesson you've learned from one of your mentors (ideally through FETP/FELTP/EIS)?

Mentors want to be part of the training cycle; they need new knowledge. They should not conduct only the routine activities but become part of the ongoing activities of their field. They need to feel that they are valued, and they want to be appreciated.

Dr. Bao-Ping Zhu: Director, Quality Performance Management and Research Programs, National Association of Chronic Disease Directors

What role does mentorship play during and after one's FETP training?

In addition to being a teacher, a mentor is a friend, encourager, and professional role model for his/her mentee.

In what capacity have you served as a mentor?

I have been an EIS supervisor in the United States and a Resident Advisor for the FETPs in China, Turkey, and Uganda.

In your view, why is mentorship important?

Mentors don't just pass on their knowledge to their mentees, but they serve as role models to pass on the genes of professionalism, work ethic, and passion for public health.

In your view, can mentorship help strengthen public health systems? How?

Definitely. Mentorship can help strengthen the public health system by building a human resource capacity, which is the most important element of a public health system.

What are the challenges in finding and providing effective mentorship to field epidemiologists?

Mentorship requires time commitment and patience. Many mentors are busy and do not have time for their mentees. Some mentors lack patience. Building a rapport between mentors and their mentees at the beginning of mentor-mentee relationships is also extremely important, which can be a challenge for various reasons.

What is the greatest lesson you've learned from one of your mentors (ideally through FETP/FELTP/EIS)?

Professionalism, love for field epidemiology, and passion for public health and social justice.