Alumni Spotlight: Meet Brett Archer, Epidemiologist (World Health Organization), 2008 graduate of South Africa FETP
by Tina Rezvani, Communications Specialist, TEPHINET
Hi Brett, thank you for agreeing to participate in TEPHIConnect’s Alumni Spotlight, a series about the achievements of FETP alumni around the world. First, please tell us: from your perspective, what was the most important thing you learned from your FETP experience?
Hi Tina. Thank you for the invitation. It’s great to see the FETP alumni coming together through TEPHIConnect.
Thinking back, I probably gained more practical skills, applicable knowledge and work experience in two years with the programme than all my university degrees combined. Possibly the most important thing I learnt was to master some of the core technical skills of an epidemiologist and immediately apply these to real world problems in the field. Many underestimate the importance of basic skills (like simple descriptive epi analyses), but these skills have been critical to every scenario in which I’ve worked, and it’s surprising to see how many well-qualified public health practitioners get it wrong.
Describe your career path after graduation. How did you end up where you are now, as an Epidemiologist with the WHO Health Emergencies Programme?
Immediately after graduating from the FETP, I joined the Outbreak Response Unit at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa. I couldn’t have asked for a better job to kick-start my career. Here, I had the opportunity to apply everything I learnt on the Programme while gaining invaluable experience.
After a few years with NICD, I decided to immigrate to Australia to diversify my public health experience, working in a wide range of areas – everything from supporting national policy on new vaccines to social marketing campaigns for tobacco control, among many other projects for the NSW State Government. The experience was great, but while supporting an outbreak investigation in rural Australia, I realized that communicable diseases was my true passion. The same outbreak investigation opened the door to join Health Protection NSW as a zoonotic and enteric disease epidemiologist.
Working internationally has always a dream. Looking to apply my expertise and experience to major emergencies, I raised my hand for many opportunities. After a little perseverance, I was fortunate to land a consultancy at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
Can you tell us more about your specific role and what you’re working on?
I’m currently based in the Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment (HIM) area of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE). Working at the Regional Office for Africa is hard work but an incredible experience. The sheer scope and magnitude of the emergencies in our region is mind boggling, and every day brings new and different challenges.
My role within the team primarily focuses on two major areas. The first is detection, verification and risk assessment (DVA) – yes, we use a lot of acronyms here! The second is supporting the development of information products, such as our Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies in African Region. It’s really a great info resource – check it out and subscribe!
What makes you most proud in your career?
Tricky question! If I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would be the knowledge that, as epidemiologists, we’re preventing disease and saving lives on a much bigger scale than we realize. Unlike the clinician that gets to see their patients recover and walk about the hospital, public health practitioners are unsung heroes who rarely see the immediate benefit of our work. And if we’re doing our job really well, no one gets sick.
What advice would you give to an FETP graduate embarking on his or her career?
Don’t stress! Your FETP skills are unique and in high demand. Just don't be scared to take chances and embrace new opportunities, make the most of every opportunity, don't be shy to speak up, build capacity and share your expertise wherever you go, and last but not least, dream big! … and the doors will open.
Photo caption: Coordinating support for plague outbreak response from the Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC), WHO Regional Office for Africa
Credit: WHO Health Emergencies Programme
TEPHIConnect members: To learn more about Brett, visit his profile.
If you’re interested in participating in our Alumni Spotlight series or have someone to recommend, please contact email@example.com.
Header photo credit: WHO Health Emergencies Programme. Coordinating support for plague outbreak response from the Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC), WHO Regional Office for Africa.