Cover Story

Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers--unofficially dubbed the "disease detectives" or the James Bonds of the medical profession--scour the country looking for clues on epidemics that could harm the nation's health or safety. In a two-year EIS postdoctoral fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Violence Prevention, Balaban analyzed data related to youth violence, suicide, child maltreatment, sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

Career Path: After graduating with a psychology doctoral degree from Emory University, Balaban wanted to make a transition from clinical psychology to public health. He started by working with the CDC on a contract basis for about 18 months on refugee health issues with the International Emergency and Refugee Health Branch. He was at that branch during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and became involved with a mental health assessment of 8,000 public school children in New York City. After that experience, he gained epidemiology training with EIS. While his two-year fellowship with EIS ended in June, he plans to continue in public health with the CDC.

Work schedule: Balaban spent most of his time as an EIS officer conducting investigations, attending meetings, analyzing data and writing papers on such topics as elevated suicide rates in certain regions of the country.

For example, in an on-site investigation, he combined quantitative and qualitative research methods to evaluate elevated rates of youth suicide in Maine, comparing them with national suicide rates. He and his team also held focus groups with community members to gather information on the public's perceptions of the elevated suicide rates.

Balaban also investigated injuries caused from annual celebratory gunfire in Puerto Rico, in which 19 people were accidentally injured and one died when residents fired their guns in the air during 2004-2005 New Year celebrations. By analyzing law enforcement and hospital records on firearm injuries, he found a problem did exist and that, in particular, women, children and elderly people were at risk. The team provided education and prevention materials and plans to conduct further investigations on celebratory firearm injuries in the United States and other countries to identify the extent of the problem.

Best part of his job: Balaban enjoys the EIS investigations because of their real-world applications. "The work we're doing really can have an impact and help people," Balaban says. Plus, he enjoys working with disciplines outside of psychology, such as teaming with anthropologists, sociologists and physicians.

Salary: EIS salaries range from $27,000 to $58,000, depending upon qualifications and experience.

How you can get his job: "Take the initiative and show interest," Balaban says. E-mail or call public health professionals to ask how they landed their jobs and what opportunities--such as internships or research projects--are available, he advises.

He also encourages students to pursue an internship or part-time work on a public health-related project, such as through their state or county health department. For more on EIS, visit www.cdc.gov/eis.