Anne Schuchat, who is
being pushed out retiring as the Principal Deputy Director of the world-renowned dumpster fire that are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had a message for the American public in an opinion piece for the world-renowned dumpster fire that is The New York Times. In it, she writes something very telling:
“Public service is difficult. The past year and a half left many among our ranks exhausted, threatened, saddened and sometimes sidelined. The Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time the U.S. public health system has had to surge well beyond its capacity, but with the worst pandemic in a century and, initially, a heavily partisan political context, the virus collided with a system suffering from decades of underinvestment. A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine revealed that state and local public health departments have lost an estimated 66,000 jobs since around 2008.
With prior responses — including the hantavirus outbreak and bioterrorist anthrax, pandemic H1N1 influenza and the Ebola and Zika epidemics — the public health front line has been the little engine that could. For each of those responses, state and local public health departments absorbed the initial shock until emergency funding came through — and then repeatedly watched resources ebb as the crisis abated. Over the past few decades, public health experienced a progressive weakening of our core capacities while biomedical research and development accelerated into the future. With Covid-19, we were the little engine that couldn’t.”
Jesus H. Christ, that is an understatement.
I’m not going to lie to you when I tell you that it is several times a week when I look at myself in the mirror and ask myself what the f*ck I’m doing. This in itself is an improvement because I was asking myself that very same question several times a day at the peak of the pandemic waves. We’ve had three waves now. I don’t think I can do a fourth.
And, just as soon as I write that, I look at the data and notice that the next wave is starting.
Too many of my colleagues have called it quits, and the loss of institutional memory is astounding. While we have a veritable wave of kids who want to get into public health and come work with us, they’re also a bunch of kids with no clue on what is going on and who will likely change professions fairly soon after entering public health. It’s not that they’re not capable, though. The problem is that public health doesn’t pay sh*t. You will never be wealthy doing public health unless you’re incredibly lucky and land a job at the top echelon of some organization and have all the crap that comes with it. And, if you think you’ll be that lucky, then quit epidemiology now because we deal in probabilities, and the odds are not with you when it comes to striking it rich.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it…