Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet
May 07, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Meet Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet, associate medical director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai.
The work of Dr. Ben-Aderet and his colleagues in the Division of Infectious Diseases has been getting more attention in the wake of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. His department is in charge of investigating communicable diseases and infections, as well as identifying potential outbreaks at the hospital and throughout the Cedars-Sinai healthcare system.
We talked to him about how his job has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak, what people should know about epidemiology and how he manages a work-life balance during this time.
"Infections, by their nature, are a class of illness that involve our society as a whole. With infections, there's a story behind them: How do they happen? Where do they come from?"
What do you do as an epidemiologist at Cedars-Sinai?
Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet: We essentially function as a built-in health department at the hospital level: We report and investigate communicable diseases and help set policies that determine how we manage them.
Infectious disease control is critical to the core mission of a hospital, and it has become more visible recently with the COVID-19 pandemic.
What sparked your interest in studying infectious diseases?
MBA: During my residency training, I was always very fascinated by infectious diseases. Infections, by their nature, are a class of illness that involve our society as a whole. With infections, there's a story behind them: How do they happen? Where do they come from?
It's not just about understanding how these diseases affect a patient, but also how they affect an entire population. That understanding is the heart of epidemiology.
How has your job changed because of COVID-19?
MBA: The great challenge of this pandemic has been creating a systematic response to an entirely new infection. We are dealing with a contagious and deadly illness that humanity has never seen before, which is suddenly common within our community. There is no "history of COVID-19." We are writing the book as we go.
In terms of the general public's interest in epidemiology and what I do, it's like going from zero to 60. Now, people are curious about everything. We get questions about every aspect of infection control policy, from hand-washing to how we know the PPE (personal protective equipment) we're using actually works.
Who are your medical heroes?
MBA: Locally, one of my mentors is Dr. Jonathan Grein here at Cedars-Sinai. I respect him because of his ability to understand complex medical issues and translate them to a level where they become applicable in a practical hospital setting.
Dr. Grein is always looking for the next obstacle in infection control. Beyond COVID-19, what's next? Is it overuse of antibiotics? Other novel infectious diseases? Is there a hospital-acquired infection we haven't identified yet?
In epidemiology, we've done a great job of improving our infection control practices in the past decade. Twenty years ago, people weren't even routinely washing their hands. We've made major strides, but many challenges remain.
What do you like most about your job?
MBA: What I really enjoy about my job is that it can be very, very impactful. Making the hospital a safer place has always been very important to me.
I've been able to bring my infectious disease knowledge to the hospital and speak with hospital administrators, nursing leaders and physician leaders. I can help put that agenda on the table and affect a large number of patients.
Your job is very demanding right now. How do you unwind outside of work?
MBA: I love to fish. I fly-fish in the Eastern Sierras, or I go saltwater fishing outside of L.A. or in San Diego.
I also love to travel. I went to Norway in December to see the Northern Lights. It was really beautiful. Being in nature will always cheer me up. I'm looking forward to getting up to the mountains this summer to hike, fish and camp.
Do you sing any songs while washing your hands?
MBA: I prefer an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if I have one. I try not to sing in public, but if I had to choose, I'm an "ABCs" kind of a guy.