More than 70 School of Public Health faculty, staff, students, and alums presented their research and programs during the 147th American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo, held in Philadelphia November 2-6.
The five-day gathering officially commenced with a rousing keynote speech by Sandro Galea, dean and Robert A. Knox Professor, at the Nov. 3 Opening General Session, but on Nov. 2, several SPH students kicked off the conference at the student-led workshop “The Doctor of Public Health Degree: A Vision for the Future of Public Health Leadership.” DrPH student Hiwote Solomon helped organize the workshop as the SPH representative for the DrPH Coalition, a group of DrPH students and alums from 20 schools whose goal is to promote and advance DrPH programs and opportunities. DrPH student Kathleen Banks, as well as alums Dana Rice (SPH’10) and Rachel Mitrovich (SPH’19), participated in panels that delved into the academic experience and professional benefits of the degree, as well as challenges they’ve experienced in the field.
“We wanted to hold this event during APHA to start a broad conversation about the DrPH degree and its future, especially as many organizations begin to hire DrPH graduates to lead their teams,” said Solomon.
Galea, who holds a DrPH degree from Columbia University School of Public Health, provided the opening remarks at the workshop.
“If you’re going to choose a profession, you might as well choose one where there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Galea. A doctor of public health degree creates leaders in all aspects of the field—leaders who are trained to combat “a system that ultimately works against our goals of generating health in populations,” he said, citing nationwide inequities in income, assets, health care, and access to nutritious food.
He stressed the importance of recognizing that health is generated “when we intersect at all stages of the life course and eco-social levels.
“It’s a powerful thing to be able to live for something greater than oneself,” Galea said. “Fifty years from now, people in groups such as this will look at data from today and say, ‘See how far we’ve come?’—and it will be thanks to the work that you all have done.”
Throughout the conference, several members of the SPH community presented on issues such as gun violence, transgender health, maternity care, intimate partner violence, noise pollution, HIV/AIDS care, and more. Following Galea’s keynote speech on Nov. 3, Lisa Sullivan, associate dean for education and professor of biostatistics, led the session “Teaching Public Health: Best Practices,” along with population health scientist James Schultz. They discussed strategies, challenges, and opportunities in teaching and learning public health, and presented their new textbook, Public Health: An Introduction to the Science and Practice of Public Health, which they co-wrote with Galea as a resource for self-directed learners.
“Our field is dynamic, our graduates enter more industries and sectors than ever before, and faculty are preparing students for careers that don’t even exist yet,” said Sullivan.
On Monday, Nov. 4, Harold Cox, associate dean of public health practice and associate professor of community health sciences, participated in a panel session on “Creating Change through Practice Partnerships,” where he offered a broad overview of the programs and initiatives of the Activist Lab, including the Water Squad, Life on Albany, Activist Bucks, advocacy workshops.
“The Activist Lab was formed five years ago as a way to think about how to engage faculty, staff, and students in real-world activism, and we do that in three ways: educate, innovate, and advocate,” Cox said to the audience.
Nicole Huberfeld, professor of health law, ethics & human rights, moderated the session “Reading the Fine Print: Challenges in Public Health Jurisprudence,” which featured a panel discussion on corporate influence in public health, as well as the impact of legal doctrines of preemption and free speech on health outcomes.
“We need to understand what the changing scope in limits in governmental power are,” Huberfeld said, “because in public health and health law writ large, we’re often talking about the tension between individual rights and government acting in the name of safety and security. That tension is really heightened in this moment.”
On Tuesday, Salma Abdalla, doctoral student and research fellow in epidemiology, participated on a panel about mass shootings and mental health. Abdalla shared her research on the effectiveness of stepped care versus psychiatric care interventions in reduced the burden of PTSD in a community affected by the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“This is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed, but it’s not receiving the same attention that other public health crises are receiving,” said Abdalla, noting that one of her presentation slides listing the latest number of mass shootings in the US already needed to be updated since she prepared it the previous day. “There has been at least one mass shooting in the US per day since the start of the year, and 2019 is not an anomaly.”
On an afternoon panel that addressed health disparities through health promotion, Adriana Black, academic program administrator in the Department of Community Health Sciences, shared how storytelling can help faculty and staff understand students’ needs and improve racial justice within institutions. She discussed results of a study that she conducted with Yvette Cozier, Candice Belanoff, and Galea called “Difficult Conversations in the Classroom,” which highlighted negative classroom experiences by students of color.
“I can’t speak highly enough of storytelling and using it as a research methodology to get a profound emotional effect that leads to sustained actions in an academic and public health institution,” Black said. “It’s important for us to look at things with a race-explicit, not race-exclusive, lens.”
In conjunction with the conference, Development and Alumni Relations organized an Alumni and Friends Reception and presented Bahby Banks (SPH’05) with the SPH Distinguished Alumni Award.
“I thank all of my professors and fellow students for showing me my role as a public health change agent, not only here in the US, but around the world,” said Banks, a leadership strategist and CEO of Pillar Consulting, a global program evaluation research firm.
SPH also won second place for the most “visually appealing and informative” booth at the APHA Expo.