An epidemiologist’s dream

There’s no escaping the fact that this is a fantastic time to be an epidemiologist. Often regarded as one of the geeky backwaters of medicine with more hours in the library and behind a computer terminal than actually seeing patients, suddenly it finds itself pushed to the front. Throughout the world, epidemiologists are looking for their shirts and ties, as the media circus draws them in.

And who should be surprised. So much of an epidemiologists career is spent writing papers for dusty journals, looking at small outbreaks of far-flung diseases that people can’t pronounce let alone express any interest. Some 30 years of bookish research, then a chair and the respect of your peers. And as for the general public, you have almost complete anonymity.

Epidemiologists dream of a pandemic. A real monster, spreading round the world in real time. The chance to witness an old-fashioned biblical plague playing out in front of their very eyes. They certainly know about pandemics – they read it in the books. The books written by other epidemiologists. But to witness one first-hand is beyond their wildest imaginings. It’s like all their birthdays and Christmases at once.

Epidemiologists appearing on television! Who’d have thought it. From the token geek on medical discussion panels, to prime-time television with journalists and the general public hanging on every word they say. Graphs and projections. Who could imagine something so big that Joe Bloggs in the pub (well actually in his own home now I hope) would be using epidemiological language and talking of ‘flattening the curve’ and the role of different social behaviours influencing mortality. This is epidemiology.

It’s rather like a physicist being present at the big bang. It’s the stuff of dreams. Yes, there has never been a better time to be an epidemiologist.