Launching the American Public Health Association Student Interest Group

uvmmedicine blogger Carolyn Payne '18
uvmmedicine blogger Carolyn Payne ’18

The following blog post was originally published by the American Public Health Association Student Assembly in September of 2017. It is reprinted here with permission.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is developing a presence at The University of Vermont (UVM). In January, a group of medical students founded the American Public Health Association Student Interest Group (APHA SIG) at the Larner College of Medicine. This was an important step towards ensuring the engagement of Vermont students in community education, political advocacy, and state and national public health initiatives. While state health organizations have traditionally struggled to involve students, Vermont provides excellent educational opportunities related to its well-established progressive politics and reputation for developing innovative state initiatives that eventually serve as models for national programs.

The APHA group at UVM is led by Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., former Vermont Commissioner of Health and current associate dean for public health and professor of medicine. To help launch membership in the APHA on campus, Dr. Carney recruited Carolyn Payne, who serves as UVM’s APHA Campus Liaison. There was great enthusiasm for the start of the APHA SIG in January of 2017, which includes primarily first-year medical students who will be on campus for the next three years. Several students already hold Master of Public Health degrees and are continuing to work on initiatives with former colleagues from state and national public health programs. Others are pursuing relatively new interests in community education, advocacy, and politics after gaining medical knowledge and watching the most recent presidential election campaigns.

The APHA SIG hosted events that aimed to promote population health, prevention, and health policy throughout the spring semester, often in collaboration with other medical student interest groups. Members participated in the Women’s Marches held in Montpelier, Vt., Washington, D.C., and Montreal, Quebec. The group’s first event on campus was held on February 3, 2017. Activities included wearing red in support of the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day to promote heart-healthy habits and also writing letters to Congress in an effort to encourage advocacy and communication between students and their home state senators and representatives about issues of their choice. The group also organized a viewing and discussion of the February 7 debate between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Texas Senator Ted Cruz about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

For National Public Health Week, members attended a talk hosted by the UVM Political Science Department that was given by Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of American’s Opiate Epidemic. Students for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety held an event that paired medical students with ongoing quality improvement projects. Students were also invited to attend a Global Health Lecture Series talk by Dr. Michelle Dorwart on topics related to social determinants of health with examples from the United States, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. Later in April, members participated in the national March for Science and March for Climate Change.

In May, the group hosted UVM Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Laboratory and Radiation Sciences Burton Wilcke, Ph.D., to discuss the Vermont Public Health Association’s policy strategies and current public health initiatives. These included the Association’s stance on discouraging adolescent use of marijuana – whether it is legal or illicit – as well as the 3-4-50 initiative to help prevent chronic diseases. Dr. Carney also led a brainstorming event, and the group determined that its focus in the upcoming year would be on educating adolescents, community members, and state officials about evidence-based research techniques and strategies to distinguish reputable science from “fake news.”

APHA continues to grow at UVM. Several graduate students have attended events and want to be involved in APHA. A number of undergraduate leaders from related organizations have expressed interest in planning combined events and encouraging undergraduate student involvement. The group is recruiting students to serve as APHA Campus Liaisons in the upcoming year. Members are looking forward to involving new students as well as pursuing and expanding initiatives in the fall.

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