Alumni Spotlight: Meet Shawn Charles, Medical Officer of Health-Epidemiology in Grenada, 2016 graduate of the Caribbean Regional FELTP
by Tina Rezvani, Communications Specialist, TEPHINET
Shawn, thank you for participating in TEPHIConnect’s Alumni Spotlight, a series about the achievements of FETP alumni around the world. Your current work focuses on upgrading the surveillance system in Grenada. Can you tell us more about your specific role in this?
I feel honored to participate in the TEPHIConnect series. I was appointed as the acting Medical Officer of Health with responsibility for the Epidemiology and Health Information Unit within the Ministry of Health in Grenada. This unit is responsible for all issues concerning health surveillance, outbreak investigation and response. I provide leadership and direction, and as the national epidemiologist, I am at the helm of all the epidemiologic investigations.
What makes Grenada’s situation unique?
Grenada is a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) located in the Caribbean which has many of the challenges associated with this designation. While chronic non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Grenada, communicable diseases, some of which are emerging and re-emerging, are still an important cause of morbidity. Our old paper-based health information and surveillance system was recognized as being outdated and inadequate to keep up with our current health challenges, so we are in the process of transitioning to an electronic medical recording and surveillance platform.
You were appointed as the national coordinator for Frontline this year. The first Frontline cohort in Grenada graduated this September. Congratulations! What would you say was challenging about launching this new level of training?
Firstly, I was newly appointed to my post as the national epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, so it was a period of adjustment for me personally. I had to manage my time carefully because, in addition to my responsibilities, I was also a mentor for many of the trainees. Secondly, Grenada has a relatively small health workforce and all of the trainees selected were actively employed in same. As a result, while the classroom training was being conducted, the trainees were absent from work which resulted in temporary interruptions or delays in delivering some health services. I must commend the Ministry of Health in Grenada for their understanding and support for the FETP program.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being afforded the opportunity to train a new generation of FETP candidates was a very proud moment for me. I remember all the new exciting experiences and knowledge that I gained during my time as an FETP trainee starting in 2014. Therefore, I am happy for the chance to contribute to the formation of other FETP graduates.
In your view, what is the most important thing you’ve learned from your FETP experience?
I think that the most important thing I learned is that teamwork is essential. The determinants of health are many and varied, so many different players need to be involved and work together if the health of the population is to be ensured. The work of a field epidemiologist is sometimes time consuming and labor intensive, so having a team that can provide support is crucial.
What advice would you give to an FETP graduate embarking on his or her career?
Seek opportunities to apply your newly acquired knowledge and skills. Practice what you have learnt; apply your expertise in your job. No matter how small the health issue, be curious; always ask “who, where, when, and why/how”.
How do you think TEPHIConnect might be useful to graduates of your program?
Having a platform whereby FETP graduates can network, exchange ideas and receive updates is an excellent initiative. The advantage of TEPHIConnect is that it will allow the establishment of a global network of field epidemiologists that are seamlessly interconnected and can provide support to each other in a rapid and efficient manner.
TEPHIConnect members: To connect with Shawn, 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.