Singapore Field Epidemiology Training Program
The Singapore Field Epidemiology Training Program (S-FETP) is a partnership of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases hosting multi-sectoral tiered training programmes for those interested in field investigation practice. They aim to ensure that health security extends beyond human health to involve good hygiene, sanitation, environmental health, wildlife ecology, animal and veterinary health, food safety, vector control and social resilience. With strong support from the Singapore Ministry of Health, such training has been recognized as an important line of defence against emerging threats.
The Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health is Singapore’s first and only full-fledged national public health tertiary educational institution. A member of the National University Health System, its aims are to foster healthier communities in Singapore and the region, and impact public health through its programs. The National Centre for Infectious Diseases is a purpose-built facility designed to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in infectious disease management and prevention. It houses clinical services, public health, research, training and education, and community engagement under one overarching structure.
To safeguard public health, we take a whole-of-society approach towards capacity building. Training in field epidemiology methods, community engagement and holistic education form vital parts of our defense against emerging threats. S-FETP exists as a national asset with domain expertise and networking to fulfil just such a role for professionals and the general public. Real experiences of COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness have strengthened our resolve to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and build community readiness for outbreaks.
Master classes are conducted by experienced One Health trainers and epidemic intelligence service faculty, overseen by the S-FETP Practice Board. Through group work, trainees investigate wide-ranging issues and help create a profile of community health, which in turn provide important clues to the at-risk groups in need of targeted interventions. This training platform is specially designed to build a sustainable field epidemiology workforce that meets the challenging future of public health fraught with emerging threats.
S-FETP made multiple contributions to the nationwide control of outbreaks, including effective contact tracing and cluster management during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resident trainees and graduate fellows undertook many tasks to integrate field epidemiologic methods in managing outbreaks, evaluating the surveillance system, conducting ground studies, and exercising effective written and oral communications. The cornerstone of these efforts comprised intersectoral collaboration, building confidence and cultivating trust.
To augment S-FETP’s conventional training, the program established its Survivor School and S.W.E.A.T. labs to present the training curriculum with novel methods, including disease detective camps, to engage trainees, medical and science undergraduates, high school students and the community at large. Skills-building with experiential learning is practiced in creative ways, on a “L.E.G.O.” journey which focuses on four key themes:
- Leadership, policy and community – urban pandemic health security
- Epidemic intelligence primer – all hazards field investigation
- Global health security – applied epidemiology and rapid response
- Outbreak alert and response – elementary field epidemiology methods
A WHO Joint External Evaluation of S-FETP’s capacity to meet International Health Regulations core functions across three workforce development indicators had scored S-FETP the maximum of 5 out of 5. It counted the program’s “novel training methods to maintain interest level and engage millennials on the subject matter” as one of its best practices. Rating the training as, “having demonstrated sustainable capacity", the assessors noted that essential competencies had been mapped to guide continuous professional development of staff with opportunities for further career growth. They also recommended the prioritization of a further review of training to meet the changing needs of Singapore’s public health workforce and to share Singapore’s experiences with the wider global health workforce.
Since 2020, S-FETP has opened its training to benefit over 100 participants comprising field investigators, rapid responders and front-liners from public agencies responding to COVID-19 situations. They gained insights and built competencies in how to apply an evidence-based holistic approach to explain transmission dynamics in the emergence of unusual events and outbreaks. Multiple short courses are now stackable to achieve comprehensive and practical proficiencies in outbreak management as well as public health policy and practice.