Filling needs that might not otherwise have been addressed, students in the Program in Public Health (PPH) service initiative spent six months as consultants on a host of client issues ranging from sexual education in the nation’s third-largest school district, to analyzing data for the city of Evanston.
“The students went far beyond my initial expectations with their level of sophistication in creating a tangible product for their clients,” said project administrator Rebecca Wurtz, MD, MPH, associate professor in preventive medicine. “When we looked at our strengths and our communities’ needs, we recognized an opportunity to launch the consulting service.”
The pilot program, which exposed students to the many facets of public health and the unique challenges facing the nonprofit world, was the idea of Wurtz and Fulbright Scholar Maya Ragavan, an MD/MPH student, currently studying in India.
“A big part of the program is getting practical public health experience,” said second-year MD/MPH student Blair Dina, the initiative’s student director.” Though I was more on the administrative end and not a part of one of the groups, I still learned a lot about what one can do out in the community with public health training and expertise.”
The group of more than 20 students worked to complete three campaigns, two of which the clients plan to fully implement. Bringing together the various skillsets of students in the PPH, the chosen projects featured a well-defined need for them to address.
Project 1: Produce two multilingual brochures outlining the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Sexual Health Education curriculum.
Project 2: Analyze data from the Evanston Health Department’s Women Out Walking (WOW) physical activity program, summarize findings, and make recommendations for future programs and evaluation of those programs.
Project 3: Develop a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination campaign at Evanston Township High School.
The group working with CPS was able to show the brochures ready for distribution to classmates during a feedback session at the conclusion of the six-month project and the WOW group was able to identify the need to produce safer and more consistent walking maps in Evanston. Although the peer-educator HPV initiative wasn’t used, the experience of developing the program and presenting it to the client still provided a learning opportunity.
“The side issues that arose were a valuable lesson, but we now have a much better idea of what kinds of projects work,” Wurtz said. “I think all of the students learned how to work in a self-directed multidisciplinary group to define and solve a problem, and how to communicate with an external partner to achieve results.”
With plans to continue the PPH public service initiative next summer, Wurtz will be working to identify new projects with Derek Tam, a first-year MD/MPH student who will be assuming the role of student director.
“At the end of the campaigns it was wonderful to hear about what all of the students had accomplished,” Dina said. “There had always been interest among students and faculty to have more service opportunities and I think the initiative is a good idea and a great way to get PPH students more involved in the various Chicago communities.