Public Health Interns, Abby Lowe and Alison Mendoza
This summer, the Community Health Promotion and Advocacy Division (CHPA) of the Chatham County Public Health Department has been privileged to host two Masters of Public Health students from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education. They are both completing their practicum (similar to an internship) with us, a requirement of their academic program. In this blog post, Alison Mendoza and Abby Lowe will share why they chose to work at CHPA, what their projects are, and lessons learned from the experience so far.
Why did you choose to work with CHPA for your summer practicum?
Alison: I chose to spend my summer with CHPA because I wanted to gain experience working in public health initiatives that were not part of university-supported projects. I was specifically interested in government work because I have been inspired by the progressive strides of the New York City Health Department, and I see great potential in the ability of a health department to affect the lives of millions of people. Finally, my interest in community engagement made assisting with soliciting community input for Chatham County’s Community Health Assessment (CHA) an excellent match. I’ve been working with Healthy Chatham Coordinator/Communications Specialist, Marissa Jelks on the health assessment.
Abby: I wanted to work at a health department for my practicum because I had never worked for a government agency in any capacity. I had worked for the past four years for a non-profit promoting school-based physical activity programming before, during, and after school in cities around the country. However, I wanted to gain experience with other health education activities about topics besides physical activity. Working with Chatham County’s School Health Liaison, Ellie Morris provided that opportunity.
What is the focus of your work?
Alison: My main role, as part of the Community Health Assessment (CHA) team, has been to conduct interviews with community members about quality of life and health matters. The CHA is conducted every four years to determine the health department’s priorities and direction for the coming four years. In order to assist with identifying the top health priorities in Chatham County, my next major task is to compile fact sheets, based on information from approximately 40 community interviews, for various health and community issues such as obesity, recreation, and transportation. You can learn more about the 2010 Chatham County CHA here: www.chathamnc.org/Index.aspx?page=1331.
Abby: The summer started with a literature review of effective instructional strategies for school-based health education. Pulling information from many sources, I’ve been able to compile some useful information to provide CHPA’s Public Health Educators support in preparing engaging and impactful health presentations for students in Chatham County. From this research, I have helped develop several tools and resources to help health educators plan and deliver effective presentations. This week, I will co-facilitate a two-hour interactive training for CHPA and other health department staff to learn about these new tools and get some practice using them.
I have also written lesson plans for sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention that classroom teachers can implement after a CHPA educator has presented, and helped mastermind a new School Wellness Constitution that will be unveiled this summer and fall to principals. The School Wellness Constitution is a written commitment from the school that they will pursue particular actions in order to support the health of students, staff, families, and to create a healthy school environment.
What have you learned so far from your work with CHPA?
Alison: I have learned a great deal from my mentors and colleagues at CHPA. The people with whom one works can be just as important as the work itself, and having an enthusiastic team backed by strong leadership is necessary to make any significant advances in public health. I am learning how to balance the limited time and resources available in the field with the rigorous theoretical methodologies learned in class, a challenge that all public health professionals must handle. Finally, through my interaction with the community members and analysis of interviews, I have learned about the strengths, challenges, joys, beauty, and hardships of the people of Chatham County. It’s this “human side” of public health that drew me to this field in the first place and inspires me to continue working in public health.
Abby: One hundred and sixty hours in, I have learned a few things. First of all, literature reviews are challenging. Secondly, in school we learn a lot of theories about why people behave in certain ways or make particular health decisions; in the classroom, it doesn’t seem all that useful. Doing the literature review and writing lesson plans both allowed me to experience applying theory in useful ways. Third, public health is desperate for more “practice-based evidence,” rather than solely evidence that comes from randomized control trials in distant places. People who do this work on a daily basis – health department health educators, health teachers, etc. – have insightful things to say about what works and what doesn’t. We should listen to them when designing health programming. Finally, in a broad sense, it’s clear that coordination, cooperation and a common vision are integral to achieving better quality of life among residents of a place. Lots of folks have to work on similar issues from different angles in order to move the mountain.
We have both learned a lot and will continue moving forward with these projects and the dissemination of results in the fall. Stay tuned!