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From zero to hero and back to zero, who’d be an epidemiologist

By  Oct 10, 2020

Eight months ago I doubt if anyone knew what an epidemiologist even looked like. Let’s face being an epidemiologist is hardly the sexiest field of medicine to be in. ER doctors, surgeons and even general practitioners have featured in countless TV dramas and movies, but when was the last time an epidemiologist had the leading role.

Imagine an action movie when someone has a heart attack on a plane and someone shouting “Is there a doctor on the plane?” And a voice from the back of the plane replies I’m an epidemiologist, and the rest of the passengers sighing deeply. Or a patient with a gunshot wound being rushed into the ER and instead of being greeted the smouldering Dr. Luka Kovac an epidemiologist rushed over.

How many children at school, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, would answer an epidemiologist. You might get a few doctors, even the odd dentist, and of course footballers and in today’s world a handful of “influencers” but I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find any child dreaming of being an epidemiologist.

I’m also guessing that a big percentage of the pollution had absolutely no idea what an epidemiologist actually did. But how the tables have turned. Move over Dr. Kovac and make way for Krunoslav Capak.

Never in the history of mankind have we seen so many epidemiologists in public. I thought they were all hidden away in labs, like Dr. Sheldon Copper from the Big Bang Theory, discovering new vaccines and generally poking around at viruses. From Dr. Anthony Fauci (or the guy that Trump ignores) in the US to Professor Neil Ferguson in the UK to Alemka Markotić here, all these guys have spent more time in front of the cameras than in their darkened labs.

It must be a shock for their eyes, like moles peeking through the grass into the daylight. They have finally got their moment in the sunshine. And not only where they the new stars of the media but also people were actually listening to them, interested in what they had to say.

Remember those press conferences before, not just here but all over the world, when we would hang on every word they said, followed their instructions and heaped praise on them for the good work they were doing. Not only were they celebrities but also leaders. Probably never since the black plague have epidemiologists been so sought after.

But just when they were getting used to their new roles as the leading actors in a global pandemic the train starts to crash off the rails. People start complaining and demonstrating against wearing face masks, their predictions are questioned and we even had one receive a death threat.

What is going on, you can hear epidemiologists scream from their labs. Quickly followed by “Why does everyone now hate us!” From zero to hero and back to zero. What happened? If you broke your leg would you question the advice from your orthopaedist? If your tooth had a hole would you tell your dentist how to fix it? All of a sudden we started to question the knowledge and education and advice of these doctors.

And the most vocal, as is normally the case, are the ones with the least understanding. In a few short months it seems that everyone has become an amateur epidemiologist. A few sentences from Facebook, a headline from a newspaper and some gossip from a neighbour and we’re all experts.

We even have people self-diagnosing. We went from not knowing what an epidemiologist looks like or even does to be able to diagnose ourselves. Whereas before every Croatian man was a football coach and knew exactly how to lead a team to the World Cup finals, now we are all epidemiologists and can cure ourselves.

After decades in the shadows wearing white all day the world’s epidemiologist finally had some glory, but before they could ride into the sunset as heroes the rug has been pulled from under their feet and they seem once again destined to be outshone by surgeons and sexy doctors.

 

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