Saturday, November 2, 2013

Students learn how partnerships can improve global health

Beginning in 2008, for the first time in human history, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban, not rural, areas. In China, 250 million people are immigrating from rural to urban areas, creating a host of public health challenges, such as:

• A more stressful environment: noise and air pollution, threat of violence and risk of injury;
• Mass marketing and the availability of convenient foods that lead to unhealthy food choices;
• Accessibility of automation and mass transportation that decrease physical activity 

That’s where Mark DeHaven comes in. DeHaven is the Dean W. Colvard Distinguished Professor and professor of public health at the Sciences College of Health and Human Services at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. His team is working with partners in Northern China to create a chronic disease prevention program for rural-to-urban immigrants. DeHaven stressed the difference between collaboration and partnership, during his keynote address at Saturday’s APHA Student Assembly National Student Meeting.

“Collaboration is good — partnership is better,” he said. Collaboration is working together on common goals, but in a partnership, you actually begin to share responsibility for solving the problem.

DeHaven’s research team is using a community health science model developed in Mexico that creates partnerships with community organizations and leaders. The mediating institutions — such as schools, religious organizations, local businesses and community groups — are as important as the public health and clinical professionals in creating solutions for a community health issue.

“To understand and improve the health of an individual, we must realize that they are a part of a community,” he said. “Don’t tell me about the disease a person has. Tell me about the person who has the disease.”

Cultural humility vs. cultural competency
Working in public health — whether global or domestic — requires a sense of “cultural humility,” a panel of public health professionals expressed to the students earlier in the day.

Cultural humility is different from cultural competency or cultural sensitivity in that it focuses on the individual, said Luba Ivanov, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The panelists asked students to think of where and how they grew up and how that influences their experiences and how they relate to others. “Start with understanding yourself…before you start to talk about other cultures,” Ivanov said.

“Cultural competency is an ongoing process — it’s not static — and cultural humility is recognizing it’s an ongoing process within you,” said Grant Farmer, chair of APHA’s LGBT Caucus of Public Health Professionals.

Added APHA President-Elect Joyce Gaufin, “It’s the sense you have that you’re not greater or better than anyone else.”

The panelists also offered students several professional development tips:

• Speak up. Don’t underestimate your ability to influence others simply because you’re a student.
• Learn about your organization’s culture and what you need to do to be successful in that environment.
• In the research setting, seek opinions about your research from those different from you, doing research unlike yours.
• Intentionally work with people whose backgrounds and cultures are different from yours so you can learn new perspectives. “A lot of people just want to read the book ‘How to be culturally competent,’ cite it in their grant and be done,” Farmer said.
• Network and build relationships.
• Find a mentor

And, the parting advice? Gaufin told students: “Do what you love. You will be happy every day of your life if you’re doing work that matters to you.”

— M.P.

(Above, from top: Mark DeHaven explains the importance of partnerships in his team’s efforts to create a chronic disease prevention program for rural-to-urban immigrants in Northern China. Students listen to tips on becoming successful global health professionals.)

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