After the success of several applied epidemiology training sessions in the early 1970s, the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program (CFEP) was established in 1975 at the request of provinces and territories. It was modeled after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, providing two years of professional development in applied epidemiology by learning through service. In 1997, CFEP expanded its network and capacity to provide service by becoming a founding member of the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET). In 2004, CFEP became part of the newly established Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), following the reorganization of national public health activities after the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. In 2016, CFEP was accredited by TEPHINET, signifying that the program meets the standards for advanced field epidemiology training programs in the areas of management, infrastructure and operations, integration with public health service and value, staffing and supervision, and selection and training of residents.
CFEP’s mission is to strengthen public health practice in Canada, through the provision of training and service which foster excellence in the practice of applied epidemiology. It achieves its mission by developing applied epidemiology and field readiness competencies among its trainees, through two years of formal training and experiential learning. This learning is centered around a competency framework and the following standardized deliverables:
Each year, CFEP recruits one cohort of five field epidemiologists coming from multidisciplinary backgrounds such as clinical, biological and social sciences. Field epidemiologists are employees of PHAC assigned to placement sites at the federal, provincial/territorial, or local level. Field epidemiologists complete CFEP deliverables under the mentorship of their placement site supervisors and CFEP program directors. They also complete a formal training curriculum.
CFEP mobilizes field epidemiologists anywhere they are needed within Canada or around the world, to provide surge epidemiological support and expertise to public health organizations as they respond to urgent public health events.
Over the years, CFEP field epidemiologists have contributed to strengthening the surveillance, and the prevention and control of infectious diseases and other public health threats in Canada. They have supported outbreak response in various settings and communities, including SARS, H1N1, Ebola, migrant health issues, Zika, the opioid crisis, extreme weather events, COVID-19 etc., and have contributed to designing and conducting syndromic surveillance for mass gathering events.
CFEP field epidemiologists are the most stable source of surge epidemiology capacity with expertise in outbreak response in Canada. On average, they provide 400 person-days per year of surge capacity to Canadian jurisdictions. In 2020, CFEP mobilized four times as many epidemiologists in the field than usual to support Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CFEP field epidemiologists have demonstrated that they are resilient and empowered individuals capable of producing results in rapidly changing and stressful environments. The CFEP infrastructure allows field epidemiologists to develop and refine their technical skills and field readiness competencies to be ready to face current and future public health challenges that result from our complex and evolving world.