Charlotte Hammer

Field epidemiologist Dr. Charlotte Hammer’s love for epidemiology is rooted in her childhood fascination with crime novels and science.

“I was always wondering, ‘Well, both of those things don’t really go together do they?’,” she said. “But, in a way, now I’m a scientific detective which is pretty cool.”

Hammer, 32, is a graduate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (EPIET). EPIET is a member of The Task Force’s Training Programs in Field Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET), the global network of field epidemiology training programs, which trains and equips epidemiologists like Hammer in more than 100 countries to protect people from infectious diseases.

Originally from Germany, during the pandemic Hammer worked primarily in Helsinki, Finland, to support disease surveillance and outbreak response as part of her EPIET training.


In total, she completed 15 assignments through EPIET, including several in Finland, a deployment to Papua New Guinea for COVID-19 surveillance, and work at the World Health Organization headquarters for the 2018-2020 Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“It is very challenging, especially work-load wise, to be an epidemiologist in a pandemic, but it also shows you very much what you’re there for,” she said. “It shows you what you are doing is important and valuable.”

In Helsinki, Hammer’s duties included responding to COVID-19 outbreaks around the city to contain the spread. Working at the scene of an outbreak can be both chaotic and slow, Hammer said, citing the example of leading an outbreak investigation at an assisted care home. To interview staff about the outbreak onset and evolution, she had to use a translator, which was time-consuming – and she needed to do the interviews as quickly as possible while also reviewing vaccination records and environmental factors to prevent others from getting sick.

Epidemiologists also play a key role in educating and communicating with the public. Juggling all these responsibilities can be stressful, and Hammer looks to her clinical colleagues – the doctors, nurses, orderlies, and all healthcare workers – who are going above and beyond during this pandemic as the heroes who inspire her.

“At the same time, I am very, very careful with this term ‘hero,’ because we’ve been applying it to medical professionals since the beginning of the pandemic; not so much anymore, but it doesn’t do them any favors,” she said, noting that it makes them seem like they’re not human.

“But our medical staff, our clinical staff are human beings,” she said. “They need a system that supports them and a community that supports them. Within my own field epidemiology community, the fact that the network of field epidemiology trainees and graduates is truly a global family that supports me is what has helped me persevere. “

“The possibility to reach out at any time to your colleagues who are going through the same thing – the same increased work loads, stress, mental toll,” she said, has helped her manage the chaos.

Using her scientific detective skills, Hammer hopes to contribute to a future where countries are better prepared for pandemics and have the systems in place to support their health workforces.

Watch the video below for a day in the life of a field epidemiologist through Hammer’s eyes.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte Hammer and Shutterstock.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte Hammer and Shutterstock.

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