Alumni Spotlight: Meet Nevashan Govender, Emergency Operations Centre Manager (National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa), 2013 graduate of South Africa FETP
by Tina Rezvani, Communications Specialist, TEPHINET
Hi Nevashan, thanks for participating in TEPHIConnect’s Alumni Spotlight, a series about the achievements of FETP alumni around the world. First, please describe your career path after graduation. How did you end up where you are now, as an Emergency Operations Centre Manager with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases?
First and foremost, thank you for the invitation to participate in this series. I feel very honoured. To answer the question, I ended up as an Emergency Operations Centre Manager with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases by being brave (or silly J) enough to say yes to a vacancy that was proving difficult to fill. I started my professional career as a master’s level molecular scientist. I then joined FETP for an amazing two-year residency, after which I worked as a research manager, provincial epidemiologist and strategic information manager before finding my current role.
Can you tell us more about your current role and what specific challenges you’re taking on?
My current role as Emergency Operations Centre Manager is to be responsible for the development, design, facilitation, implementation, coordination and management of the National Emergency Operations Centre for Communicable Diseases in South Africa. At present, the specific challenge I am undertaking is the role and the responsibilities attached to the role of Emergency Operations Centre Manager. This role is new and the concepts around how an Emergency Operations Centre for Communicable Diseases works in South Africa are also new to many within the public health system. Stakeholder engagement, partnerships with surveillance programmes, development of physical and technological infrastructure as well as integration with external departments and other operations centres remains the priority in trying to establish the National Emergency Operations Centre as a much needed national resource to manage communicable disease emergencies in South Africa.
Are you still connected with the South Africa FETP (for example, through teaching or mentoring trainees)?
Yes, I am. I believe every graduate has a responsibility to continuously engage with the FET programme they graduate from, so that they can be the pillars of strength, wisdom and experience for new residents or graduates. I take every opportunity to share my experience with new residents, offer a listening ear or to be the voice of reason when they feel a bit overwhelmed. I often support FETP teaching activities and mentoring of residents when they rotate through the Outbreak Response Unit at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. We currently do not have enough strong, experienced field epidemiology mentors in South Africa, resulting in residents finding it challenging to access the appropriate support or leadership when they are in the field. Often that translates beyond graduating from the programme to finding new employment as few people are aware of what field epidemiologists are capable of or their unique skillsets, and as a result they are unaware of how best to utilize the disease detectives they have at their disposal. The perception has changed over the last decade but sadly, it remains an uphill struggle.
What is your proudest achievement?
That’s a difficult question to answer as I am proud of everything I’ve done that has led me to where I am today. However, if pushed to provide one, it would be the GERMS-SA Electronic Data-collection Information System (GEDI). GERMS-SA is a well-established disease surveillance programme in South Africa for which I worked as a research manager once completing FETP. I was given the opportunity to lead the implementation of a mobile phone data collection platform – which I named GEDI - that would see the surveillance programme transition from paper-based to largely electronic, in what was the first attempt of this nature at the organization. The paradigm-shift is complete as GEDI is still in use four years later and has become the go to mechanism for new surveillance projects across GERMS-SA.
From your perspective, what was the most important thing you learned from your FETP experience?
Be smart enough to say yes and be brave enough to say no. In my experience, as a resident or new graduate it was very easy to feel pressured to want to prove myself and show what I could do with my newly acquired skills. As there was (and sometimes still is) very little appreciation for the abilities of field epidemiologists, I would find myself saying yes to almost any request so that I could prove myself. In the long run, that overenthusiastic approach limits your ability to say no and you become spread too thin to operate optimally all the time. Even though we’re trained to selflessly look after the health and wellbeing of populations, the FETP experience taught me that it’s very important to look after you first.
What advice would you give to an FETP graduate embarking on his or her career?
The cross-sectional study design is totally under-appreciated! Do a cross-sectional study of your life, career, etc. periodically, as an external stakeholder commissioned to do the study. As important as it is to jump headfirst with maximum gusto into everything you do, it is also important to slow down, be reflective of the here-and-now and plan ahead. Perspective matters.
TEPHIConnect members: To learn more about Nevashan, visit his profile.
If you’re interested in participating in our Alumni Spotlight series or have someone to recommend, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.