A research paper co-authored by a team of SPH students and recent alumnae won the Maternal and Child Health Section Outstanding Student Author Award at this year’s APHA conference.
Brianna Sullivan, Emily Lopez, Alicia Ridenour, Natalia Schiller, and Teslote Tadesse won first place for their work, “Challenges in homeless health care: Improving reproductive health services for homeless women.” It was one of five outstanding student papers selected by the APHA’s Maternal and Child Health Section for presentation at the conference, and was chosen as the top paper by a panel of judges.
The paper grew out of work the students conducted while enrolled in an upper level maternal and child health course — MC802 (Implementing Community Health Initiatives: A Field-based Course in Leadership and Consultation) — co-taught by Lois McCloskey, an associate professor of community health sciences, and Joan Bragar, a clinical associate professor of community health sciences.
In the class, student teams serve as consultants for a community health organization in order to develop and implement a community-based health initiative. The winning team from SPH collaborated with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) to assess the needs of homeless women in the Boston area to improve their reproductive health planning capacity.
Brianna Sullivan called the student-practice partnership “the most influential learning experience” of the team’s graduate school career. “To be given a chance to act as independent consultants on a real world public health project while simultaneously learning leadership skills and strategies for enhanced community partnerships was truly a unique experience,” Sullivan said.
At its core, the project demonstrated a need for reproductive health care tools and services tailored towards homeless women, with the team presenting BHCHP with a “Reproductive Health Toolkit” designed to strengthen the organization’s practice, and to help clients make informed decisions about their reproductive health.
For the completed project toolkit, the team used an existing World Health Organization reproductive health decision-making tool, but adapted and repurposed it for the specific needs of homeless women. They also provided resources on reproductive life planning, motivational interviewing, and reproductive health care of women who have suffered emotional or physical trauma. The toolkit also added a list of reproductive health smartphone applications for patient use, as well as strategies for how each tool could be best used.
“Along the way, we learned that there really is not much in the way of extant reproductive health resources that have been validated with a homeless population,” Sullivan said. “Global health resources came the closest to meeting our needs, which we adapted for the task at hand. Given the unique challenges homeless women face in addressing their reproductive health needs, we hope that more research will be done on this topic in the future.”