Search

Mr Epidemiology

No, I'm not a skin doctor

Author

Mr Epidemiology

Atif completed his Masters and PhD in Epidemiology at Queen’s University, and currently works in health services research in Toronto, Canada as an epidemiologist. While his research examines the health of Canadians, he is also heavily involved in science outreach and communication. You can connect with him on Twitter @DrEpid

Thoughts for the class of 2021

Last week, I saw someone ask a very simple question on Facebook:

“If you could give one piece of advice to those starting undergrad next week, what would it be?”

The comments were interesting. Several people mentioned how grades, while positioned as the be-all and end-all during undergrad, are not a reflection of your worth or ability as a person. The advice that grades are important, so work hard and do your best, but do not let them dictate how you see yourself, is very good and definitely something people need to hear. On the other hand, this is easier said than done, as for that first position out of undergrad, grades are key to getting your application out of the pile (along with relevant experience/networking). Especially in research heavy fields, success begets success, and the better your grades are, the more likely you are to win awards and scholarships, which then gives you a better chance to win subsequent awards and scholarships. But I don’t think that’s the best advice you can get.

Someone else mentioned that you should spend your time networking, and diversify your viewpoints to encompass ideas and values beyond those that you’re familiar with. There’s definite value in this too. For some, going to college or university is the first time they will be exposed to people outside of their community, especially those who are going to pursue education in a new city, state, or country. The opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn from others, as well as respect and appreciate different viewpoints and value structures, is one that will help shape you as a person. Being able to look at issues from different perspectives, and to appreciate the value of these diverse outlooks will help develop your skills and make you a more well-rounded person. But this isn’t the most important advice I’d give someone entering or in undergrad.

Arizona State University//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

For me though, the best advice is that there is no fixed path to success. At the start of undergrad, many first years will have a rigid definition of what they want to do upon graduating: gain admission to medical or law school, getting a job with a top company upon graduation, or embark on graduate education in a specific field. However, in being laser-focused on a singular goal, you risk missing out on opportunities that will enrich your experience and provide you with new and valuable experiences. Seeking out additional experiences that come your way that seem interesting and fun at the time, and stepping off the beaten path to engage in those activities, can be valuable and helpful for developing your perspective. Sometimes those experiences with be positive and incredibly fun, and sometimes, those experiences will be the opposite. However, every experience, both positive and negative, is one you can grow from.

If you continue to do that which you enjoy and love and are passionate about, you’ll have the energy and motivation to push through the tough parts. And if you feel a sense of purpose and a belief in what you’re doing, then you’ll be motivated to go the extra mile and make it your own. The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was asked about pursuing a career as an astronaut, and gave the following answer. It’s one that has stuck with me, and provides another perspective on this same issue.

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become. – Chris Hadfield

Enjoy your undergrad. Enjoy every experience that comes your way, and seize every opportunity. But if, on your journey, you end up taking a path you didn’t expect at the start, don’t become disheartened. There are many paths that lead to your destination, and if you are doing that which you’re passionate about and interested in, every destination represents success.

Advertisements

Five for fighting, three to six for mumps: Controlling disease outbreaks in the NHL (Part 2)


Editorial note: This piece was co-written by Atif Kukaswadia, PhD, and Ary Maharaj, M.Ed. Atif is a writer for the Public Health Perspectives blog on the PLOS network, and Ary is a writer for Silver Seven, an SBNation blog about the Ottawa Senators hockey team. This piece is being cross-published on both platforms. Enjoy!

CHALLENGES

The environment within NHL clubs are relatively controlled, with most players together a majority of the time — from on-ice, rooming together on the road, and flying with charter planes. Thus, when one player contracts the illness, it’s relatively hard to contain it other than by separating a player out completely. But with mumps having a long incubation period of about 16 to 18 days, although it can be as short as 12 to as long as 25 days (CDC), detecting that an illness is in fact the mumps can be difficult, and by that point, it may already be too late. However, for the public, this controlled environment means that what happens in the NHL may not necessarily pose greater risk. When things go wrong in sports, we generally blame it on the referees, and here, yet again, we can blame referees for increasing the public risk of an NHL mumps outbreak (sort of kidding). The ~66 referees employed by the NHL fly commercially like the rest of the public, waiting around airport terminals and going in-and-out of rinks with the public, potentially leading to increased risk.

Click here to continue reading!

Five for fighting, three to six for mumps: Controlling disease outbreaks in the NHL (Part 1)


Editorial note: This piece was co-written by Atif Kukaswadia, PhD, and Ary Maharaj, M.Ed. Atif is a writer for the Public Health Perspectives blog on the PLOS network, and Ary is a writer for Silver Seven, an SBNation blog about the Ottawa Senators hockey team. This piece is being cross-published on both platforms. Enjoy!

INTRODUCTION

When we think of places for disease outbreaks, a few examples quickly come to mind: classrooms, college dorms, crowded trains. Another suggestion? The confines of the National Hockey League, where players are surrounded by literal blood, sweat, and tears. When you watch a hockey game, you’ll routinely see players spitting, swapping saliva through the sharing of water bottles, sweating — either through playing the game, using the same towel to dry themselves off, or rubbing their sweaty glove in another player’s face during a scrum. Add to this the intense travel and training schedule, along with the close quarters players are in between games, and this means that, among other things, the NHL is a breeding grounds for illness, even rare ones that do not generally permeate the public sphere.

 

Click here to continue reading!

Mark Zuckerberg supports universal basic income

Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg received an honorary degree from Harvard University. At the commencement, he promoted the idea of a basic income guarantee, joining several other tech leaders in advocating for this idea. Tech leaders can see a world where robots and AI are doing a lot of work currently performed by humans, and so are already considering how those who lose their jobs will be retrained for the new economy that emerges. While some are focused on rearranging deckchairs, they are focused on how this workforce can be retrained and deployed in the new industries that will emerge, and most importantly, what will resonate with them.

“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.

You’re graduating at a time when this is especially important. When our parents graduated, purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community. But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.”

Click here to continue reading!

Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional monologue about his newborn son’s heart surgery

“I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week.”

With those words, Jimmy Kimmel opened his show. Using a combination of vulnerability and humour, he told us about the last two weeks in the Kimmel household, starting with the birth of his son: William “Billy” Kimmel. A few hours after the birth, a nurse noticed that the baby had a faint heart murmur, and was slightly blue. The baby was taken to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where doctors performed an operation to repair his heart (the first of several such surgeries Billy will need over his life). Thankfully, the surgery was a success, and Billy is now at home with his family, where both mother and baby are recovering.

Kimmel used this moment to express his gratitude for the healthcare workers who helped him and his family, thanking the nurse who first noticed the issue multiple times by name (Nanush Shakernia – “if it was a girl, we would have named her Nanush, we really would have.”), as well as the physicians, nurses, and healthcare professionals involved in his care.

Click here to continue reading!

Income inequality and determinants of health in the US

A series published in The Lancet recently investigated the effect of income inequality on the health of Americans. While incomes for those in the top have grown, extreme poverty has also grown in the US. In fact, more than 1.6 million households in the US survive on less than $2 per day; a number double that of the 1990s. The cycle is not likely to be broken either, barring major social change. Differences in aspects ranging from zoning laws, access and quality of education, and inheritance laws continue these inequalities through generations, making it more difficult to rise out of poverty.

Photo by Thomas Hawk (click to see more)

Click here to continue reading

A coffee, a donut, and a defibrillator

By Leonard Bentley from Iden, East Sussex, UK - Iden, CC BY-SA 2.0
By Leonard Bentley from Iden, East Sussex, UK – Iden, CC BY-SA 2.0

When someone has a heart attack, every minute counts. The American Heart Institute guidelines say that for every minute, the chances of a victim surviving decrease by 7 to 10 percent. To help save lives, Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have become more and more ubiquitous, and now can be found in many different locations, including coffee shops, banks, malls, and sports complexes. When placing these devices though, a few issues need to be considered, including hours of operation, proximity of other AEDs, and being in high-traffic areas. To help inform these decisions, researchers from the University of Toronto recently conducted a very interesting study.

Using data on cardiac arrests that occurred outside of hospitals in Toronto from January 2007 to December 2015, they were able to place them on a map. They then identified businesses and municipal offices with at least 20 locations from sources such as the Yellow Pages, along with their hours of operation and geographic coordinates. For each site, they mapped the number of cardiac arrests that occurred within 100 m to identify which locations would be able to save the most lives. As a final test of these locations, they then looked at how the locations fared over time; determining if the locations relatively stable or if the AEDs have to be moved every year to continue to be effective.

Click here to continue reading

A better name for “non-communicable diseases”

I came across an interesting read last week in The Lancet. In it, Drs Allen and Feigl make an interesting case for changing how we refer to non-communicable diseases

The global health community does not spend much time on branding, which perhaps explains why existing classifications for the three largest groups of diseases are both outdated and counterproductive. The first Global Burden of Disease study described infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and injuries. This grouping reflected a predominantly infectious disease burden in low-income and middle-income countries, which has since tilted towards NCDs. A name that is a longwinded non-definition, and that only tells us what this group of diseases is not, is not befitting of a group of diseases that now constitute the world’s largest killer.
(emphasis mine)

Click here to continue reading!

2017: What can we expect?

Following up from the end of last year, I thought it would be fun to predict what I think the next 12 months will have in store for us. So lets get to it!

1. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act

President Trump has already made it clear that this is one of his first priorities when he assumes office. The groundwork was already laid with the combination of the Senate passing a budget measure that was supported by Congress, and this week Trump issued an executive order to start rolling back the ACA. Now, the ACA is not without fault as we’ve discussed before; premiums have increased for many users, and the lack of true, universal coverage means many who don’t need coverage would rather pay the penalty than enrol. But repealing it without a replacement could be a disaster for many Americans. The Washington Post estimates that the repeal will kill more than 43,000 annually (based on this study in the NEJM). The impacts will be felt beyond the healthcare system though, with evidence from California suggesting that such a move could affect everyone involved with the health industry ranging from hospitals, food, and transportation services that all work together to provide patient care. Estimates from this study suggest up to 209,000 people would lose their jobs, and it would cost California over $20 billion dollars. It remains to be seen what replacement is offered, but the transition between the two is one that needs to navigated delicately.

 

Click here to continue reading!

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: