Sunday, November 7, 2010

Public health students take our questions

Ask a few public health students attending APHA's Annual Meeting about the most daunting challenges facing them as they enter the field, and the answers range from figuring out how to explain what public health is to conducting research that makes a lasting difference to tackling ever-increasing rates of chronic disease.

“People don’t really seem to take public health seriously,” said Brittany Marshall, an MPH student at the University of South Florida and APHA Student Assembly Student Meeting director.

She said a key challenge is “letting people know public health is important, and letting them know why.”

Public health doctoral candidate Charles Rogers, a graduate research assistant at the Texas A&M University Center for the Study of Health Disparities, said he doesn’t want to be a researcher who simply “parachutes in” to study an issue and leaves after the data is collected.

“I really want whatever we do to make a difference,” he said. “I want to be part of that new group of people who are really about change.”

Eric Roseen is a fourth-year chiropractic student in Oregon who already tries to counsel patients on healthy lifestyle changes but wonders how to make a dent in the overwhelming tide of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and the like.

“I think chronic disease is one of the biggest killers," he said. "Probably the biggest challenge is to find something that is effective” at reducing the rates of such killers.

“I think it’s important to recognize that health doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said MPH student Elaine Ruscetta, who’s studying at Columbia University. “When somebody’s sick, it’s not just that they don’t feel well. They can’t make money. And then if you have a population that is that way, the whole population is unable to provide for themselves.”

Not to mention the sticky wicket of health disparities that exists not only between countries, communities and racial and ethnic minorities, but also between, say, a 26-year-old University of Minnesota MPH student like Krystal Rampalli and someone her age with no education and a minimum-wage job.

Rampalli said a formidable public health challenge is convincing individuals to quit smoking, eat more produce and make other changes that will affect more than one life.

“Failing to realize that small actions contribute to larger trends — I think that’s a big challenge to public health,” she said.

— D.C.

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