Archive for November, 2015

APHA: The Importance of Mindfulness in Public Health Practice

By Ali Talan, MSc

Attending a large conference in any field can be overwhelming: the sea of people, the sheer number of sessions, the enormous space. But as the opening general session at this year’s APHA conference was coming to a close and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was speaking passionately about the importance of equity and inclusion in education, I felt like he was talking directly to me.

I had just come from a four hour workshop on leadership in public health and had spent much of that time thinking and sharing my beliefs about the importance of mindfulness in public health practice. How to be mindful of your own actions, how to be mindful of the actions of your colleagues, and how to be mindful of the past, present, and future experiences of those you are serving and the communities you are working with.

Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski summed up what I had been feeling with these words: “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”

Being present and mindful isn’t always easy. It felt incredibly important for Dr. Hrabowski to share his words with the thousands of attendees at the start of this conference. A conference that has the ability to shape and influence the course of a young person’s passion, interests, and future career. I carried his words with me while I attended various oral sessions, poster presentations, business meetings, and socials. I found myself more engaged during presentations and more attentive to others in social settings.

Looking back on this conference, I connected with interesting and inspiring people at the MCH social hour, became policy chair of the LGBT caucus, and was able to relate much of what I was hearing in the oral sessions to my own work and interests. I found the whole experience to be rewarding and attribute a lot of what I got out of the conference to being mindful of where I was and what I wanted to learn from being there.

Ali Talan is a third-year DrPH student in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences. Her research interests focus on risk behaviors during adolescence and the transition into adulthood, as well as health disparities in sexual minorities, HIV prevention, and the relationship between mental and sexual health.


November 24, 2015 at 8:40 am Leave a comment

Finding a Family in Family Planning

IMG_2833By Miranda Pollock, BS

A conference with 12,000 attendees left my expectations for APHA in an overwhelmed fashion. The conference would be HUGE and full of topics I wanted to hear. However, I went in with a plan. I knew exactly what I wanted to hear, and the types of networking events I wanted to attend. All of those expectations were fulfilled, but included some pleasant surprises, and even some disappointments.

After attending the MCH-specific networking dinner on Saturday night, I was shocked at how cozy the MCH section was. This group of 50 or so was not overwhelming at all! The networking continued into Sunday morning, where I met several professionals and other students who will soon become colleagues from this home-base MCH section. I recognized faces from the dinner the night before, and in a sea of 12,000 I started to find a family. Later that day, I attended sessions and met with a new Chicago MCH contact via Tulane Career Services. With her recommendation, I attended the MCH social hour where again, I saw familiar faces. Even though I am not an MCH fellow, because I showed interest in the fellowship program and happened to network with the right people, I got an inside scoop to the fellowship program and even sat in on their orientation!

Some of the scientific sessions I attended were informative and inspiring, while others were disappointing. The session on Teen Pregnancy Prevention led to a narrowing of my focus in MCH and I made some connections to the West Coast. In addition, the session on women’s health politics was eye-opening; however, the sessions about neoliberalism and breastfeeding were dull and left me wanting more. All in all, I realized that my favorite part of APHA was networking. I am fascinated with people to begin with; put me in a comfortable space with other fired up women’s health advocates, and watch out: I’ll be asking for your business card!

Miranda Pollock is a first year MPH student, concentrating in Maternal and Child Health. Her background is in human biology and environmental microbiology. She plans to graduate in May 2017. Her interests include teen pregnancy prevention, STI prevention, and community collaboration. She also loves the arts, cycling, yoga, and meeting new people.


November 23, 2015 at 8:40 am Leave a comment

Making my time count

FullSizeRender-2By Megan Carroll, BS, BA

A packed lecture schedule in one hand and a thick book of program materials in the other, I entered the convention center for APHA ready to have my life changed. An entire conference surrounded by other public health professionals and students? I had to make this time count. I’d heard urban legends of folks who find jobs and careers through APHA, and I was ready to add myself to that number.

As aversive as the word “networking” may be, I was surprised to find how easy it was to make new connections at APHA. Whether schmoozing in the Expo or commiserating over the coffee line (and even one quick friendship while waiting to go through airport security with our matching APHA tote bags), people attend the conference with the goal of meeting their like-minded peers for possible future collaboration. As a graduate student, my own goals were seemingly much more focused: I was on the prowl for doctoral programs and government organizations. And I was certainly not disappointed with the selection at the expo — I ran into an old interviewer from Columbia, and a fellow Blue Hen alumna now working as a representative at Johns Hopkins. It was comforting to know that while I was new to the world of public health, the transitions handled themselves.

No one should ever turn down a chance to visit Chicago, and the APHA annual meeting was a great introduction to the city. In fact, I loved the Windy City so much that I’ve added it to my shrinking list of future cities to job-hunt in after graduation. I’m thankful to APHA not only for my new collection of business cards and connections, but for setting my sights on Chicago!

Megan Carroll is a first-year MPH student studying Maternal and Child Health at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Her primary interests include sexual and reproductive health with a focus in HIV/AIDS eradication, and she anticipates a career in governmental health administration after graduating in May 2017.


November 20, 2015 at 8:38 am Leave a comment

Race well covered; Policies disproportionately affecting women left out

IMG_8136 2By Mary Lingwall, BA

My aim in attending APHA was to get a stronger sense of what is going on in the professional field regarding the topics and issues that I am most passionate about—abortion care, breastfeeding outreach and promotion, and racial disparities in health. My secondary aims were to network, make a list of people and organizations I want to keep track of, and identify an area of study that needs more attention paid to it by future professionals (me!).

Overwhelmingly, of all the topics that I am passionate about, racial disparities in health was the most covered at APHA. I was able to attend both the “Racism in Public Health” oral panel and an absolutely fantastic “Reproductive Justice and the Black Lives Matter Movement” roundtable session, both of which focused explicitly on the role of racism in America as it relates to health, happiness, and the ability to live a full, safe, and satisfying life. But race was also a central focus of many other sessions that were not labeled as race-related. For instance, the most memorable parts of the “Maternal Child Health Legacy: Lessons from the Past Informing the Future, Building MCH Policies and Just Communities” were the opening performances by young Chicago writers (all focused on race, racism, and the killing of black people by structural and institutionalized factors) and the comments made by the outstandingly candid panelist and former APHA president, Dr. Murray.

To my great disappointment, abortion access was not well covered at this year’s APHA conference. I attended the “Abortion Taskforce” business meeting (my absolutely favorite session because I was included as a stakeholder and it made me feel really connected) as well as an oral presentation on Abortion access in the Midwest. Both of these sessions were excellent. However, women’s access to abortion is a significant public health policy topic right now in the United States, but this was not even alluded to in the General Assembly. It was an outrageous omission for a conference titled “Health in All Policies.” The crusade to defund Planned Parenthood is widely covered in the news and is topical and relevant to this community of professionals; it was eerie that women were forgotten in this way.

Breastfeeding promotion activities, outreach programs, and science were all well covered at the conference and I enjoyed the oral presentation that I attended. I was able to meet one of my breastfeeding heroes, Dr. McKenna. Dr. McKenna is a lactation professional who is most well known for his empathy and advocacy for bed-sharing as a protective factor in breastfeeding promotion.

Overall, I had a very enjoyable and worthwhile time at APHA and I look forward to attending next year, where I will bring the heat with some well-researched and timely information about the urgency for public health attention to reproductive rights.

Mary Lingwall is a first-year MPH student with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health. In her previous career, Mary was a birth and postpartum doula and lactation counselor. Her interests include perinatal mood disorders, breastfeeding promotion and outreach, and abortion access in the South. She plans on graduating in May 2017.

November 19, 2015 at 8:39 am Leave a comment

APHA 2015: Communication is Key!

IMG_2690By Fiona Ritchey, BA

Being the proud lifelong nerd that I am, I started counting down to APHA from the moment I heard we’d be funded to attend. I’ve spent the five years prior to this program in the world of clinical psychology, and was so excited to be able to get up close and personal with all the fabulous research of the public health world.

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

The first session I attended was about the legacy of Maternal & Child Health (MCH) in Chicago and nationally. It was in this session that I was exposed to my new academic crush: Dr. Linda Rae Murray. One of three panelists (all women of color), she spoke engagingly of harnessing the wisdom of the old and the energy of the young to revive innovation in MCH and renew our dedication to social justice. She set the bar quite high for engaging presenters throughout the conference.

This conference experience really highlighted the importance of presentation skills for me. Dr Freeman Hrabowski spoke in the style of a Southern Baptist preacher in the opening general session, high volume and enthusiastic, prompting active participation from the audience. The style fit the context well; Dr Hrabowski was the final speaker in a large 2-hour session at lunchtime and the audience was starting to fade. His energy immediately commanded the attention of the room, and his varying cadence and use of humor maintained a high level of attentiveness throughout.

In terms of content, my favorite session was on the social determinants of mental health by Drs. Shim and Compton. Something they said that really resonated with me was to ask questions like a third grader when thinking about disease causality: keep asking why until you hit a wall. Their point was that too often, we mistake an intermediate cause as a fundamental cause and fail to appreciate the structural issues underlying health inequities. The focus on structural causes leads inevitably to advocacy, and I was happy to hear Drs. Shim and Compton urge the audience to maximize their effectiveness by contributing expertise to lawmakers and advocating for mental health.

I was really happy to see a presentation on the economic benefits of preventive mental health initiatives, since I think these data might be key in garnering bipartisan support. Dr. Scott Ashwood from RAND ran a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis on a suicide prevention initiative from California’s Mental Health Services Authority, and found that the state will see a $51 return for every dollar invested in the program. I think this type of analysis is going to be key in building the overall case to fund statewide and nationwide mental health promotion initiatives. Much of the pushback against measures to fund mental health initiatives has to do with up-front cost, but what these data show is that investing in prevention saves a lot of money over time.

I left the conference with more questions than answers, and I definitely count that as a win. Fundamental causes of disease are hard to tackle, and require a high level of creativity and collaboration. One of the challenges of the next generation of public health professionals will be to reframe the messages with which we’re currently advocating to better reach potential partners in different sectors who traditionally have not been thought of as allies. Public Health is a moral and economic win for everyone, and it needs to be marketed that way.

Fiona Ritchey is a first-year MPH student concentrating in Maternal & Child Health and Epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She plans to graduate in May of 2017, and pursue a doctorate degree. Her interests include social determinants of mental health, toxic stress and allostatic load, and health inequities.

November 18, 2015 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

I Was A Bystander

By Lauren Biagioli, BS

I went to a Campus Sexual Assault Prevention session with mild interest but….it was Jessy Lyons’ delivery that made me want to get in the field ASAP. She talked about her new program to tackle the bystander effect in campus sexual assault. Although her program was in fact intriguing and I agreed with it, it was how she delivered her presentation to the audience that entranced me. Jessy was engaging and her passion was evident, she ignited a fire in me that made my experience at APHA unforgettable.

I am new to public health but I was becoming a bystander –  I was watching things happen and not engaging in conversations that could challenge me. I was waiting for someone else to do it. It was the diffusion of responsibility. Much like the bystander effect I was catching myself expecting my classmates to ask the challenging questions and letting my inquisitive mind fizzle out. Jessy Lyons struck the match for me. It is my turn to take the reigns to continue to learn and question what is already known and challenge where we can go with public health.

When I went into this conference I expected to walk away with business cards and a few notes of new things I learned. Instead I walked away with a few business cards, a notepad filled with page after page of notes, and a new outlook on my approach to learning. You would think that at the graduate level I would have the right approach to learning but I was so wrong. I needed to come to the conclusion on my own that I needed to stop being a bystander to my own education because what I realized is that my approach to learning is a domino effect to those that I come in contact with in the workforce and those populations will suffer if I don’t adopt this change.

Lauren Biagioli has a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise and is a first-year MPH student, concentrating in Maternal and Child Health. She plans to graduate in May 2017. Her interests include violence prevention, child physical and sexual abuse, mental health, and health equity. She also loves running, connect the dots and sno-balls.

November 17, 2015 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Know Your Own Passion

By Thea Lange, BA

Each year, APHA is overwhelming. Between oral presentations, poster sessions, film screenings, and the Expo, I always feel pulled in a thousand different directions. The hectic nature of the conference and relentless networking quickly drain my energy and it can be difficult to stay motivated through the long weekend. Usually the most inspiring and motivational aspect of APHA is finding outspoken, successful women who I can look to for guidance. This year, I found Dr. Linda Rae Murray.

CEMCH Scholars Thea Lange (left) and Miranda Pollock (right) with Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH (center)

CEMCH Scholars Thea Lange (left) and Miranda Pollock (right) with Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH (center)

I first heard Dr. Murray speak at the Maternal and Child Health Legacy panel. During this session, Dr. Murray highlighted three areas for personal improvement that resonated with me.

First, recognize the difference between your job and your purpose in life. Dr. Murray acknowledges that people often have to work for a paycheck. This may result in having a job that feels meaningless. But having a nine-to-five job does not preclude us from being active participants in our communities and supporters of social change. Volunteering outside of work may be exhausting, but it is also rewarding.

Second, Dr. Murray reminds us to detach our passion from our accomplishments. It is easy to become driven by the pursuit of success and lose sight of our personal mission. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in our accomplishments, but it is more important to prioritize our passion. Success will come and go, but passion will motivate us even when we are not recognized for our work.

And finally, Dr. Murray stresses the importance of asking hard questions. In the United States, people tend to shy away from discomfort. But this tendency has stagnated us as a first world country. In order to resolve complex issues, we need to start asking complex and difficult questions, and we need to be ready to listen to the answers.

Dr. Linda Rae Murray is the outspoken public health advocate I have been missing in my life. I am truly grateful and honored that I was able to hear her speak and absorb her advice.

Thea Lange is a first-year MPH student, concentrating in Maternal and Child Health. She received a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Mount Holyoke College and continues to integrate her undergraduate background into her public health work. Her interests include HIV/AIDS, highly vulnerable children, and correctional health.

November 16, 2015 at 8:35 am Leave a comment

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