When contagious diseases begin to spread—the most recent example being the coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19—public health agencies have a greater need for contact tracers.
But what exactly is a contact tracer, what do they do, and how do you become one? In this guide, we will address all of these questions, providing answers that will help you decide whether a contact tracing is right for you.
Contact Tracing: What It Is & Why We Do It
If you’ve seen advertisements for contact tracing jobs, your first thought may be: What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing involves tracking an infectious disease to determine its spread within a specific population (your local community, state, country, or even worldwide) or in a certain demographic—such as if it effects some races, genders, or age groups more so than others.
The ultimate goal of contact tracing is to slow, if not outright stop, the disease from progressing from one person to another as much as possible. This can help relieve the burden on healthcare systems. In some cases, it can even save lives.
Contact tracing is not a new process, as public health systems have utilized this method for decades to help keep a disease more contained. For instance, research reveals that contact tracing was used in the 1930s to help control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
More recently, contract tracing helped control the Ebola outbreak, with one publication reporting that this strategy had “a great potential” to dramatically reduce the number of people who tested positive for the Ebola virus.
Typical Contact Tracer Job Duties
If contact tracing involves tracking—and hopefully stopping—the spread of a contagious disease, what does a contact tracer do?
One of the functions of a contact tracer is to identify individuals who have either tested positive or potentially been exposed to the infectious disease. The quicker each of these can be established, the greater the ability to keep the disease from spreading, which occurs in part due to providing education, another contact tracing duty.
Contact tracers are also tasked with educating both infected and potentially infected individuals as to actions they can take to prevent transmission to their family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else they typically have contact with.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that COVID-19 is generally spread by being within six feet of an infected person or coming in contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets after they sneeze, cough, or talk and those droplets entering your mouth or nose.
That’s why the CDC recommends that people:
- Wash their hands often, using hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- Avoid contact with people infected with the virus
- Maintain at least six feet apart from those not living in their own home
- Wear a face cover when out in public
- Cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Regularly disinfecting “high touch” surfaces
- Monitor health to notice developing symptoms consistent with COVID-19
Sharing this information with individuals who either have tested positive or who have been exposed helps them take the necessary actions to stop the disease from spreading.
Another responsibility of contact tracers is to collect information to determine if anyone else may have been exposed. If they have, it is important to contact that person to learn if they have potentially exposed anyone else and to educate them about how to keep those around them from getting the disease.
Contact tracers also conduct any necessary follow-ups, connecting people with any community resources they need to help plan for or recover from the disease. This could include helping them plan for childcare until they are safe to be around, finding companies that can deliver their groceries and medications, or devising a way for them to receive medical care should their condition get worse.
Qualities Helpful to a Contact Tracer
Getting people to open up isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s helpful that contact tracers develop certain qualities and skills.
For example, the course touches on effective communication techniques, how to listen in a way that gets people to speak, how to express empathy, and more. It also goes over the importance of developing good phone skills, how to be professional in stressful situations, and how to make a connection over finding similarities between you and them.
Implementing these skills as a contact tracer achieves two purposes. One, it builds a level of trust between you and the person you are tasked with contacting. The stronger this trust, the greater their willingness to take the steps necessary to not spread the disease.
The second purpose achieved by implementing these “soft skills” is that it increases their likelihood to share the information you must collect. This includes anyone they may have contact with, the symptoms they are experiencing, and if there is anything else you need to know about that specific disease.
Common Contact Tracing Methods
Of course, working as a contact tracer involves the need for more than soft skills. You must also learn and be able to use some of the most common contact tracing methods.
Because some diseases can be spread rather quickly, methods used to notify and educate infected and potentially infected individuals must be fairly swift. The phone works very well for this purpose.
In this day and age, many people carry a cellphone. Getting in touch with them is simply a matter of obtaining their number. This is much faster than trying to make face-to-face contact with each person. It’s also safer because it limits your exposure to the disease.
Other contact tracing methods use technology to help enhance the process. Detailed databases provide contact tracers the most up-to-date and current information about both the individuals to be contacted and the disease itself.
These systems also allow for more accurate follow-through and follow-up, allowing the contact tracer to add any important information in the contact’s records from the beginning of the process to the end.
Though these are some of the most common contact tracing methods, each agency can set its own processes and guidelines. Therefore, if you want a job in contact tracing, it’s important to learn what these processes, guidelines, and methods are so you know that you are following the proper protocol.
What About Mobile Contact Tracing Apps?
Some companies have also created mobile apps designed to assist with the contact tracing process. These are apps that individual users can download to update the rest of the world of their status regarding a particular infectious disease while also having real-time access to the individuals around them who are positive or been exposed.
This type of technology can help individuals make more informed decisions based on the spread of the virus around them. They are also a good tool for anyone who is infected or been exposed and wishes to share this information with their neighbors and others living in their community.
One area where contact tracing mobile apps fall short is that not everyone downloads them. Therefore, the information they provide is not complete. It may even give a false sense of security because the data won’t necessarily provide an accurate picture of the level of the virus in that particular area.
Contact tracing mobile apps may also be inaccurate due to the user inputting incorrect information. Maybe they did test positive, but they don’t want neighbors to know so they input that they are negative. Or maybe they check the wrong box in error. Either way, this information can mislead the general public.
Additionally, some geographical areas tend to have less access to technology. Cellular phones aren’t quite so prominent, which means that the disease prevalence in these locations is going to be underrepresented.
Steps to Becoming a Contact Tracer
If all of this sounds interesting to you and you want to help curb the spread of infectious disease, contact tracing may be right for you. How do you become a contact tracer?
Most contact tracing jobs require that you have a high school diploma or an equivalent. That opens this option to individuals who don’t have a college or technical degree.
The next step is to engage in a contact tracing training program. This course will provide a basic level of knowledge about epidemiology, which is the study of health and disease based on certain risk factors, causes, and spread. You’ll also learn more about contact tracing and why it is so important to stopping infectious disease transmission.
Contact tracing training also teaches you the general duties of a contact tracer so you have a better idea of what to expect should you apply for this type of job. You’ll learn more about contact tracing methods and how to handle real-life scenarios.
The Contact Tracing course at UMA also teaches you the “soft skills” that can make you more successful in this type of role. This course ends with an entire module dedicated to helping you find your contact tracing job. We talk about how to better prepare for the interview and how to take skills you’ve learned in other jobs and apply them to the contact tracing position.
In addition to obtaining contact tracing training, individual public health agencies may have other requirements as well. This can include completing more comprehensive training programs, whether about contact tracing in general or their processes specifically.
Oftentimes, this information is shared in the job listing, giving you a heads up about what you have to do if you want to be a contact tracer for that particular organization.
What to Look for In an Online Contact Tracing Training
If the agency does not have a dedicated training program, you may be able to satisfy this requirement by taking an online contact tracing training course like the one offered by UMA.
This is a 6-module course that is set up as follows:
- Module 1: Contact Tracing Background / Overview – covers the history and origin of contact tracing, as well as providing the terminology that is helpful to know in the contact tracing role
- Module 2: Introduction to Public Health – the purpose behind public health, factors that can impact health, and the differences between public health and a health care practice
- Module 3: Introduction to Epidemiology – how disease is spread, signs and symptoms, and how to reduce transmission
- Module 4: Information Collection and Contact Tracing Protocol – general duties and responsibilities of a contact tracer, the type of information you are tasked with collecting, common methods of collection, what it’s like to a contact tracer (a day in the life), and real-life contact tracing scenarios
- Module 5: Soft Skills Essential to Effective Contact Tracing – how to be a more effective communicator (in both talking and listening), the importance of empathy and professionalism, and how to better connect with people on the other end of the phone
- Module 6: Getting the Contact Tracing Job – job opportunities that exist for those who are interested in working as a contact tracer, how to best prepare for the interview so you make a good impression with the potential employer, and what to expect as to pay and mobility in this role
If you’re unsure whether this is the right program for you, you must first consider whether your potential employer requires you to attend a specific program. If not, the certificate of completion received from UMA may be enough to satisfy this requirement.
Also check out other programs to learn what type of information they provide, not only about the contact tracing duties and functions, but also the “soft skills” required to be an effective contact tracer. The more tools the program can provide, the more you can prepare yourself for a contact tracing role.
Other factors to consider include the cost of the training and how long it takes to complete. UMA’s online Contact Tracing training program is available at no cost and can be completed in 6-8 hours. This enables you to begin working toward a job as a contact tracer today.
Contact UMA to Start Your Contact Tracing Course Today
If you’d like to learn more about UMA’s Contact Tracing training course, contact us today. Our helpful and professional staff will happily answer any questions you may have about what this training entails.
Alternatively, if you’re ready to sign up for the course, you can do so now. Once you are enrolled, you can complete the training as quickly or as slowly as you’d like. This enables you to work it into your schedule in a manner that works best for you!
- What is contact tracing? Contact tracing involves tracking an infectious disease to determine its spread within a specific population (your local community, state, country, or even worldwide) or in a certain demographic (such as if it affects some races, genders, or age groups more so than others).
- Why is contact tracing important? The ultimate goal of contact tracing is to slow if not outright stop the disease from progressing from one person to another as much as possible. This can help relieve the burden on health care systems. In some cases, it can even save lives.
- What does a contact tracer do? One of the functions of a contact tracer is to identify individuals who have either tested positive or potentially been exposed to the infectious disease. Contact tracers are also tasked with educating both infected and potentially infected individuals as to actions they can take to prevent transmission to their family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else they typically have contact with. Other functions include collecting information and connecting the contacts with any area resources needed to tend to their health and/or stop the spread of the disease.
- How do you become a contact tracer? Every public health agency sets its own requirements for the contact tracers they hire. Typically, you only need a high school diploma (or equivalent) to work as a contact tracer. Required trainings generally involve taking a contact tracing training course, as well as any other courses to better familiarize yourself with that agency’s processes.
- How do I pick the best contact tracing training for me? When looking at online contact tracing training programs, see what type of information each provides. It is important to know about epidemiology, contact tracing terminology, public health, and how contact tracing is performed. UMA also offers sections of the course designed to teach you which skills can make you a more effective contact tracer and tips for pursuing the contact tracing job you desire.
The Contract Tracing module is not included within Ultimate Medical Academy’s grant of accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).