Diana Bensyl

The Ebola epidemic was initially announced on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website on March 25, 2014. Since then, over 15,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in West Africa . One program within the CDC, the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), has been assisting with the Ebola outbreak effort in West Africa . The EIS program is a two year training program for PhDs and MDs to gain experience in applied epidemiology. Dr. Diana Bensyl, a member of the American College of Epidemiology since 2000, is one such epidemiologist who trained in applied epidemiology through the EIS program. Prior to entering EIS, Dr. Bensyl received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology from Baylor University and then continued at Baylor to receive a Master’s of Arts in Sociology. She then studied Preventive Medicine and Community Health with a specialization in Sociomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas and received her PhD just prior to entering the EIS program. “Coming out of my PhD program, I had spent a lot of time at my desk doing data analysis and writing. I had become quite proficient at data analysis for complex surveys and longitudinal surveys. What I really enjoyed was when I was able to get out of the office and do the surveys in person and see the community of interest in person. When I learned about the Epidemic Intelligence Service, it seemed a great way to try something new and get applied epi experience in the field.”

Dr. Bensyl first worked as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Alaska EIS Officer in Anchorage, Alaska. She mentioned that, “Alaska was amazing. I chose my assignment because it sounded interesting and adventurous. And this was before any of the shows like Deadliest Catch had come out! The only experience I had with occupational work was a short-term class project looking at environmental contamination of a worksite and trying to assess worker exposure. But going to Alaska and working with bush pilots, fishermen, and loggers to try to reduce occupational injury and mortality was the perfect new challenge and a major public health need. I was able to work with fishermen, aviators, federal and international partners such as the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, Transport Canada, Coast Guard, and with universities such as Harvard and University of Alaska. As an EIS officer, I also worked with the Alaska Department of Health, the Carter Center, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.”

EIS officers all have primary assignments in the United States, but also will respond to important public health issues in other locations in the U.S. or internationally. While at her post in Alaska, Dr. Bensyl had a temporary duty assignment in Enugu, Nigeria working with the Guinea Worm Eradication Program. “While in Nigeria, I traveled to remote villages in Enugu state to speak to tribal leaders, village health workers, and community members to ensure filter distribution had occurred and that filters were being used appropriately, monitor pond treatments, and describe issues that were contributing to continued infection. The experience taught me about cultural competency, problems faced by communities quite different from mine at home, and the importance of being flexible especially when working overseas.” At the conclusion of her EIS training, she was hired as a Research Science Officer at the Alaska Field Station. Dr. Bensyl then transferred to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, where she held a number of important positions to arrive at her current position as Curriculum and Training Team Lead in the Epidemiology Workforce Branch and EIS. Dr. Bensyl has been involved in the training of more than a thousand medical professionals and students. “My branch houses the EIS Program along with programs for students and teachers from middle and high school and fellowships for medical/veterinary school students. As the Curriculum and Training Lead, I am responsible for ensuring the content of our coursework aligns with the applied epidemiology competencies set forth by the Council of Linkages and CDC/CSTE. The coursework bridges the gap to be able to successfully complete the learning-by-doing projects that are a part of the training of our EIS officers, students, and teachers. Overall, we seek to build their applied epidemiology skills to take them to the next level of learning.”

Dr. Bensyl can be contacted at zqg6@cdc.gov. For more information about the programs covered by the Curriculum and Training Team please see the following websites: www.cdc.gov/eis, www.cdc.gov/careerpaths/index.html, and www.cdc.gov/epielective.