UIC Students Attend 2017 Making Lifelong Connections Annual Meeting

UIC students Müge Chavdar, Erin Howes, Paula Satariano, Janine Salameh, and Izumi Chihara (left to right) attend the 2017 MLC Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.

By: Erin Howes, MPH Candidate in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

This April I had the incredible opportunity, thanks to the UIC- Center of Excellence of Maternal and Child Health, to experience two firsts: visit Seattle and attend an academic conference! The 2017 Making Lifelong Connections (MLC), held in Seattle, Washington on April 5th-7th, 2017, hosted current and former trainees from the various Maternal and Child Health (MCH) training programs. MLC provided a platform for personal and professional networking and to share ideas on how to advocate for MCH populations.

The conference kicked off with any student’s dream – drinks, appetizers, and poster presentations. Listening to other student poster presentations was an informative experience where I learned so much and felt inspired for my own capstone project, which I will conduct next year.  One of my favorite presentations was from a social worker in Seattle focusing on refugee health. This presentation drew my attention because of my interests in public health. I currently work at an FQHC in Chicago, Esperanza Health Center, which is located the community of Little Village. This community is predominantly immigrant and most residents are of Mexican decent. I was interested to see how the health status of immigrant communities in Seattle differ from those in Chicago. I learned about the healthcare system in Washington, the different populations they serve, and  how the differences in healthcare policy affect women, children and families.  It’s amazing how different maternal and child health issues can look from state to state and I never would have learned about Washington’s needs without meeting these fellow trainees.

Attending the MLC also gave me a deeper appreciation for the families that are impacted by MCH programs and services. During another portion of the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet a mother who has children with a special healthcare need. This woman collaborates with the LEND (Leadership Education in Nerodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Program. She shared her story and informed us that she is a foster parent to 7 children and that 4  of these children have disabilities. Beyond being a foster parent, she is also a community health worker and a researcher.  She used her experiences to inform her research and to understand the caregiver experience. She also examined the needs of children and youth with special healthcare needs as they transition to adulthood and their higher risk of homelessness. I appreciated the opportunity to hear this narrative because it provided me the context to appreciate the importance of  programs that serve families who have children with special healthcare needs and how multiple systems should come together to protect vulnerable population.

Because this conference places a strong focus on building connections, many of the events allowed for interaction and reflection. A key activity that continued throughout the conference was the “Ring of Connections” in which every participant was provided with their own personal business cards to trade with new connections throughout the conference. This served as an icebreaker and allowed people to get to know each other, while also having the contact information to maintain communication following the conference. We also did some speed-networking, which allowing us to meet dozens of trainees in minutes.

Finally, the conference provided three wonderful, thought-provoking keynote speeches from booming professionals in the MCH field. One speech made a profound impact on me was given by Lauren Raskin Ramos, the director of the Division of MCH Workforce Development under HRSA. She spoke about her professional journey, taught us about the possibilities of our careers, and the power of making change by serving in government. One piece of her speech that stood out to me was her advice to seek people who see you as a leader. Sometimes we need to look for outside associations and organizations for leadership roles. Lauren encouraged us to pursue those skills and opportunities if they are not in front of you, and to be the kind of leader you would follow. I appreciated the reminder from Lauren who motivated me to re-evaluate my strategy to strengthen my leadership skills, and provided me an example of how to combine my passion for MCH with my goal to become a leader in public health.

I truly enjoyed this conference and I look forward to connecting with MCH leaders in the future!

To learn more about Making Lifeling Connections, click here.


Early Childhood Justice: Moving Forward

On October 18th 2016, experts in housing, health and employment; students, and early childhood advocates met at Loyola University’s Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law to discuss progress, explore new data on the race and poverty disparities of health, and develop a trajectory for future research in the field of early childhood health. This conference, titled, Justice from the Start: Exploring Racial Disparities in Access to Services for Babies and Toddlers, included keynote speaker Olivia Garden, Executive Director of Loyola’s Center for Law and Social Policy, and featured Dr. Aisha Ray, Professor Emeritus at Erikson Institute.

In Chicago, Hispanic children are two times as likely to be born into poverty, and among African American children, this statistic increases to three. The mission of Shriver Center is to “promote justice, and improve the quality of life and opportunities for upward mobility for those living in poverty.” To best identify and address the needs of our most disadvantaged communities, advocates must approach system change with the application of a “race lens.” As Olivia Golden presented: young children of color are the poorest population among children aged 0-3; and a child born poor, is more likely to become an adult who is poor.

A theme throughout the conference was the intersection of race and poverty and their impacts on health of young children and their families. Early exposure to poverty impacts the lives of children in many direct and indirect ways. Increased food or housing insecurity, a lack of health care services, racial discrimination, and limited proximity to early childhood centers compound the challenges faced by young children and their families. Those who are invested in the fight to break the cycle of poverty in Early Childhood to break the cycle of poverty: must prioritize racial justice. This approach will impact the lives and stability of parents, and as a result the health and wellbeing of their young children will be improved.

Participants explored the importance of structural racism and equity in the development of policies, services, and programs targeting the needs of infants and toddlers. In Chicago, across the United States, race remains a controversial subject, and racism as a barrier to health needs to be included in our nations dialogue of health equity. Structural and institutional factors, such as early childhood education centers or screening programs, influence childhood health outcomes; however, we need to recognize how we exclude the most at need when we frame future laws and policies. The following are examples of policies that impact health equity in Early Childhood:

  • Proximity of high quality, bi-lingual early childhood programs to the infants and toddlers most in need;
  • Policies which allow the expulsion or suspension of preschool-aged children;
  • Implicit bias and lower expectations of children and families of color;
  • Quality of programs or curricula used with children in poverty and of color.

Beyond recognizing the many challenges and barriers Early Childhood advocates face, participants had the opportunity to discuss areas where we can advocate. With an accumulation of research focusing on equity in early childhood, there is an increasing wealth of data that can be leveraged to strategize future steps. To reduce structural racialization and implicit bias, we can target different levels of change. Through personal and interpersonal change, individuals become more effective in relating to others and interpersonal conflict in reduced. Individuals and groups can collaborate to address structural and systemic inequities, such as biased hiring practices and promotion, policies, and a lack of inclusive institutional cultures. Participants then discussed how to address these systemic inequities. The following are some examples of proposed strategies:

  • Improve data collection to make up for inconsistent data
  • Focus on structural racism systemic inequality rather than personal prejudices
  • Broaden the representation of diverse individuals and communities most affected by early childhood policies and programs
  • Develop a highly qualified, culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse early childhood workforce.

We are tasked with the responsibility as professionals in early childhood to challenge these barriers to equity. With further research and a greater understanding of new data on race disparities in early childhood, advocates can ensure that all children have equal access to services, regardless of their race or poverty status.

Written by: Paula Satariano, MPH Candidate 2018 and Irving Harris Early Childhood Scholar


CDC’s Millennial Health Summit to End Health Disparities

Kera (CoE in MCH Student) with others at the summitAs a public health nerd, who follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention with as much love and fervor as National Football League fans, I was excited to notice a flyer posted on campus about a free conference at the CDC. The Millennial Health Leaders Summit is a two day intensive training for graduate and medical students to network, learn, and explore case studies about addressing health disparities. My heart dropped when I read that only two representatives would be chosen to attend. “What are the odds that a first year master’s student would be selected?” I thought disparagingly. The application was simple: in 300 words or less answer “What will be the most important public health issue confronting communities that experience health disparities in 2025? What will you be doing in 2025 to address and reduce these disparities?” I wrote my essay in a caffeinated stream of conscience. My deep-seated anger at the smear campaign on Planned Parenthood and the ongoing war in America to limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare finally had an outlet. The essay I constructed is without a doubt my personal manifesto.

One month later I forwarded an email with the subject line of “Congratulations on your acceptance to the Millennial Health Summit” to my adviser with my own addition on the top in all capitals that simply stated, “I GOT IT” followed with six exclamation marks.

I attended the Millennial Health Summit just three months later. I met several Maternal and Child Health majors from across the country. We compared classes, professors, and how our programs were set up. It was a fantastic networking opportunity with the students and presenters from around the country. I learned so much from this conference but here are my top three takeaways from the Summit:

  • Cross Collaboration is key. There was an urban planner who pointed out all of the ways that the poor planning of our cities creates obesity. One cannot fight obesity with just education. We have to work with urban planners, architects, and the department of transportation to create environmental change. He also pointed out if you can partner with the department of transportation to create more bike lanes or parks you have made your city healthier without even touching your public health budget!
  • Advocacy requires both qualitative and quantitative data. Paula “Tran” Inzeo from Family Living Programs, a health promotion specialist from Wisconsin conducted a breakout session, stating “you can have the data, but it is real people’s stories and voices that have the power to move mountains. The example was in their advocacy work to open alternative court systems in Wisconsin. They had all the facts and figures detailing how mass incarceration was a problem in Wisconsin; however, it was the voice of a veteran who had been helped directly by a substance abuse court that helped him get his life back on track with alternative sentencing of mandatory substance abuse treatment and community service rather than jail time.
  • I learned so much through the process of getting there. This is my biggest word of advice to master’s students- apply and try. Just try. I really did not think that I would be selected and even if I had not my 300 word essay is by far the piece of writing from my graduate career. I submitted it as my sample writing for several job applications that I was subsequently offered. More importantly it provided me with an opportunity to think beyond graduate school. It made me stop and think about what issue is most important to me, what aspect of that work do I want to be doing, and what position do I want to host in ten years. Once you think deeply about your priorities you can be selective with your time and energy. You can draft a plan of attack on how to get to your dream job. I highly recommend anyone of any profession to do this writing exercise for their professional development.

Written by Kera Beskin, MPH Candidate 2017 


Mindfulness Meditation as a Tool for Dialogue & Self Care

As of yesterday, I officially finished my first year of graduate school! This year has been an incredible whirlwind of personal and professional growth and development, immense saturation with academic material, and a constant balancing act of school work, work-work, and trying to maintain a semblance of a personal life. At times, I felt like I could conquer anything and other times I just wanted to curl into a ball and crawl in a hole. Grad school (and life) is a roller coaster of emotion.

One of the reasons why I love public health is because it isn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions. Public health examines the roots of inequity to understand how to build a more just society. Addressing health through this social justice lens is essential if we want to transform our society to be one where every person has equal opportunity to be healthy. However, learning about the roots of inequity can be emotionally taxing because what we’re really talking about is oppressive systems that were created by humans as a means to systematically oppress other humans. Not only are we reading peer reviewed literature on these topics, but we’re attempting to engage in dialogue with one another and create solutions and tools so that when we enter the workforce, we have the skills we need to fight for justice. Or, at least, we’re attempting to engage in dialogue. The reason why I say attempting is because there is a distinct difference between dialogue and discussion and often times, we (as a collective “we”) don’t make it all the way to dialogue. In discussion, people share their own views because they want them to be accepted by the group – to hopefully be deemed as “correct”, it’s an argument for validity. In dialogue, however, you’re putting your own personal biases on hold and searching for truth by listening and creatively exploring issues together through conversation and questioning. The goal isn’t to be right or to win, the goal is to learn and find truth. So what is stopping us from getting there?

I’m not sure that I have the complete answer and I’m honestly not sure what the complete answer even looks like, however, I want to share how utilizing mindfulness meditation can make it possible to engage in dialogue and act as an effective tool for self care so that we can actively participate in the world in a more fulfilling way.

Mindfulness meditation is described by Chu (2010) as “nonreactive metacognitive monitoring, where individuals try to cultivate new relationships with internal experiences by regulating things such as attention, awareness of present experiences, emotions and thoughts through nonjudgmental acceptance of those emotions and thoughts without avoiding them or over engaging with them.” According to the American Meditation Society, mindfulness meditation is most effective when practiced twice each day for at least 15 minutes for each practice. Mindfulness practices can include bringing attention to one’s breath or on a mantra and to nonjudgmentally release one’s attention from distractions as the mind naturally wanders.  Through mindfulness meditative practices, individuals are able to retrain their brains to use cognitive patterns that promote emotional intelligence, self awareness, and increased experience of connectedness (Chu, 2010). Mindfulness meditation is about being present for all experiences and decreasing emotional reactivity as a means to fully engage with ourselves and our reality (Lutz et al., 2008). It has been linked to stress reduction, decreasing emotional reactivity, increased relationship satisfaction, increased spiritual connection, and can be used as a tool to help with anxiety and depression (Chu, 2010; Lutz et al., 2008).

Engaging with emotionally heavy topics can cause physiological discomfort where individuals are tempted to use “thought suppression and avoidant coping to attempt to regulate negative thoughts and emotions”, but avoidance and disengagement often end up exacerbating problems (Lutz et al., 2008). And in the grand scheme of things, they don’t make the thing that you’re attempting to avoid magically disappear. Mindfulness meditation provides a platform to retrain our brains to be more comfortable engaging with all parts of our lives – good, bad and everything in between. By being present with our thoughts, emotions, and physical responses and not actively trying to suppress or manage them, we are allowing ourselves to remain open to all experiences. We are providing ourselves with the skill set we need to engage in dialogue in an attempt to search for truth. We are also giving ourselves the skills we need to recharge our batteries and decompress from the stress that comes with daily life so then when we are faced with adversity we can address it rather than avoid it.

Disclaimer, this is personal opinion: I don’t think that we’re all actively avoiding challenging topics because we don’t believe they need to be addressed, I think for most people, we have been conditioned and given more outlets (that are much more convenient) to avoid and disengage than we have been for addressing challenges in a healthy way. And a lot of the time, these half-hearted coping skills stick with us throughout the course of our lives, thus making engaging in dialogue and facing adversity uncomfortable and something to avoid.

The point that I’ve been trying to get at though, is that our communities are facing very real and very pressing issues that cause collective harm. It is our responsibility as active citizens to engage in self reflection, self care, and dialogue to figure out the ways in which we can contribute our talents and skills to build a more just and more equitable society. This can only happen when we start asking ourselves the hard questions and opening our eyes to the honest responses – perhaps mindfulness meditation is a tool that can help make that possible.

To find out more about meditation, please visit: http://americanmeditationsociety.org/

Written by Michelle Chavdar, Research Assistant, Master’s of Public Health Candidate

References

Chu, L. C. (2010). The benefits of meditation vis‐à‐vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress and negative mental health. Stress and Health, 26(2), 169-180.

Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in cognitive sciences, 12(4), 163-169.


MCH Leadership Competencies at UIC CoE in MCH

There are 13 Maternal & Child Health (MCH) Masters of Public Health (MPH) Training Programs supported by the MCH Bureau (MCHB) and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The goal of the training programs is to educate and prepare the next generation of MCH leaders to ensure the health of our nation’s families and children. Each training program utilizes different strategies to ensure the trainees are prepared, but a common requirement of all programs is education and training on the MCH Leadership Competencies.

The MCH Training Programs were developed in alignment with the strategic plan created by the MCHB to ensure that MCH leaders “have the vision, expertise, and skills to provide the leadership needed to design and implement policies and programs to assure that children grow into competent, independent, nurturing, and caring adults”. 1 The leadership competencies were born out of that as a way to measure whether or not trainees were in fact rising to become leaders in the field.

The competencies are outlined in three main areas: self, others, and wider community.1 Self includes increasing one’s learning through reading, self reflection, instruction, and other experiences.1 Others includes leadership amongst fellow classmates, coworkers, colleagues, and practitioners.1 Wider community is defined as organizations, systems, and institutions.1 Each of the 3 areas have specific competencies. There are 12 total competencies among the areas of self, others, and wider community.1 Some of the competencies include MCH knowledge base, ethics & professionalism, negotiation & conflict resolution, and policy & advocacy. 1 To measure progress, trainees take a competency self assessment before beginning the MPH program and once completed.

Here at UIC, one unique way we are working towards MCH leadership is by utilizing Clifton Strengths Finder, a product of the Gallup Organization. If you’re unfamiliar with Strengths Finder, it is an online survey that asks questions about an individual’s likes and dislikes and provides responses on a Likert-type Scale. Individuals complete the assessment and in the end are provided with their top five strengths out of a total thirty four possible strengths. The underlying assumption of Strengths Finder is that each person innately has a unique combination of strengths that they bring to any given situation. Strengths Finder helps to identify those strengths to allow the individual to build on them personally and professionally. Each person in our first year MCH cohort completed the assessment. We each were provided with an outline of what our individual strengths meant, how they would serve us well personally and professionally, as well as some tools for personal reflection. Additionally, we were provided with a chart that highlighted every student in the cohorts strengths along with a quick guide to what each strength meant. Conversations took place about what characteristics were unique to each strength as well as tips regarding how to best work together both in the classroom and in the workforce. Utilizing Strengths Quest, or any similar assessment, is an excellent exercise because it utilizes positive psychology to provide a safe space to have discussions about teamwork and leadership while also giving individuals a starting point for individual reflection. Additionally, it provided us with a better understanding of our peers and increased appreciation for the strengths of others. It was an excellent addition to our academic training in the competency areas of self and others.

To find out more about MCH Leadership 3.0 visit:

http://www.amchp.org/programsandtopics/WorkforceDevelopment/Pages/MCH-Leadership-Competencies.aspx

To learn more about Strengths Finder visit:

https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=webad&utm_campaign=strengthsdashboard

References:
1 MCH Leadership Competencies Workgroup. (2009). Maternal and child health leadership competencies version 3.0.

Written by Michelle Chavdar, Research Assistant and UIC MPH Candidate


Women’s Pelvic Health 101

As women, sometimes it feels like the only time we acknowledge our pelvic region is when we’re talking about having babies. But how much do we really know about our pelvic health; about what is going on “below our belts”?

If you’re like me and many other American women, the answer probably is “not much”. Pelvic health gets a bad rap because it’s at the center of stigmatized topics like elimination (pooping and peeing), sexual health, and reproduction. Stigma makes us uncomfortable and when we’re uncomfortable we tend to avoid whatever it was that made us feel that way. Unfortunately, however, not talking about a critical part of our health leaves us in the dark about our bodies and this lack of knowledge can negatively impact our well-being and prevent us from seeking the support and information we need.

One person who isn’t afraid to talk about women’s pelvic health is Missy Lavender and the wonderful team at the Women’s Health Foundation (WHF). WHF is a non-profit organization committed to improving women’s pelvic health and wellness by driving cutting edge research initiatives, developing and offering community based education and fitness programs, fostering conversation and creating communities for women, serving as a national resource on pelvic wellness issues. Their goal is to turn the conversation of pelvic health from a sisterhood of silence to a sisterhood of strength where women feel connected to their bodies and are empowered to live fuller, richer lives. WHF is Chicago-based but are currently leading the charge nationally on women’s pelvic health and wellness. They host educational events, wrote a pelvic health book for teenage girls (Below Your Belt: How to be Queen of Your Pelvic Region), update an amazing community blog with tons of pelvic health information and news, in addition to countless other efforts and initiatives. Their website is a goldmine for all things pelvic health. After spending a lot of time with the Below Your Belt book and WHF resources, we’ve compiled a list of some pelvic health basics to get you familiar with what’s going on “below your belt”:

  • Our pelvic region includes our pelvic bones, pelvic floor, abdominal and back muscles, and digestive, elimination, and reproductive organs. All of these muscles, bones, and organs are essential for physical and reproductive wellness, sexual satisfaction, and healthy digestion.1
  • Proper peeing behaviors can keep your bladder, vagina, and pelvic floor healthier for longer. Here are some important reminders:
    • Always wipe from front to back to prevent spreading bacteria. 1
    • For optimal elimination (pooping/peeing), it is important to relax your pelvic floor muscles, so when you go to the bathroom, make sure you sit all the way down1
    • Rocking from side to side on your tailbone will help relax your pelvic floor and empty all the urine from your bladder. 1
    • Only go to the bathroom when you really have to go1
    • Always drink plenty of water. 1
  • There are a lot of different things that influence our pooping behavior. Here are some tips to help keep you ‘regular’:
    • Eating fiber helps with healthy digestion. A good rule of thumb for how many grams of fiber to get each day is: 10 grams of fiber + your age = # grams of fiber you should eat per day. 1
    • Squatting or using a Squatty Potty is the optimal position for pooping because the squatting position is known to relax the pelvic floor, therefore requiring less pressure and strain and making elimination easier. 1
    • Body movement = bowel movement1 Increased physical activity is known to increase regularity.
    • Always drink plenty of water1
  • When it comes to feminine hygiene, avoid vagina spray. 1 Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven, so all you need to keep things clean is some warm water.1

This post only covers a small amount of what pelvic health is, but we hope it sparks your interest in this essential subject. To learn more about the WHF and pelvic health check out the WHF website and community blog.

Website: http://womenshealthfoundation.org

Community Blog: http://womenshealthfoundation.org/category/blog/

If you’re interested in teaching your daughter, sister, cousins, or anyone you love about pelvic health, be sure to check out the Below Your Belt book.

http://womenshealthfoundation.org/below-your-belt/

If you’re interested in the Squatty Potty or purchasing a Squatty Potty, check out their website:

http://www.squattypotty.com/

Written by Michelle Chavdar, Research Assistant and UIC MPH Candidate

________________

References

1Lavender, M., & Donatelli Ihm, J. (2015). In Elizabeth Wood (Ed.), Below your belt: How to be queen of your pelvic region. Chicago, IL: Women’s Health Foundation.


Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic Re-Cap

On Wednesday, January 27th the Public Health Student Association, EverThrive Illinois, and EverThrive Illinois Vaccination Initiative hosted a movie screening to honor Cervical Health Awareness month. The CoE in MCH wanted to re-cap this enlightening event in case you weren’t able to join us.

Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic is a documentary that shares the stories of five women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer. Each of the women share their unique struggles and triumphs with the disease and offer narratives through which the audience is able to understand the lived experience of individuals with cervical cancer. The film also does an excellent job weaving education about HPV and cervical cancer throughout the story leaving the audience more knowledgeable and informed.

HPV can be a somewhat confusing virus to understand. While the movie did an excellent job educating about the virus, unanswered questions still remained. Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with Dr. Rachel Caskey, MD; Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UIC. Audience members were provided a safe space to ask questions related to HPV and cervical cancer. Here are some important take-aways:

  1. HPV, or human papilloma virus, is a group of over 120 related viruses that are spread by skin to skin contact. Each group is classified as a given number based on the type of disease the type may cause.
  2. Men and women can contract and transmit HPV.
  3. While sexual intercourse is a very efficient mode of transmission for the virus, HPV can be transmitted by any skin to skin contact.
  4. HPV is a life course disease, meaning that men and women are at risk for the virus all throughout the course of their lives.
  5. It is estimated that about 80% of adults will contract at least one type of genital HPV by the time they are 50.
  6. Some types of HPV can lead to cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common, but HPV is also linked to anal, penile, head and neck cancers.
  7. HPV screenings and tests are available for women as a pap screening and HPV test.
  8. The HPV vaccine is available for males and females and is covered by all healthinsurance for individuals 9-26-years of age. The HPV vaccines targets the types of HPV most linked to cervical cancers. The vaccine is administered in three doses over a 6-month period.
  9. The HPV vaccine is most effective when delivered at a young age (about 11-12 years).

Dr. Caskey Answering HPV Questions HPV Event Audience Picture

On a local level, the fight for HPV vaccination is being strongly supported by EverThrive Illinois. For those who might not know about EverThrive Illinois, EverThrive was formerly known as the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of Illinois. EverThrive Illinois is a non profit located in Chicago that works to improve the health of women, children, and families over the lifespan through community engagement, partnerships, policy analysis, education, and advocacy. Their main areas of focus include child and adolescent health, maternal and infant mortality, healthy lifestyle, health reform, and of course immunization. I had the chance to connect with Kelly McKenna, Manager of EverThrive’s Immunization Initiative, to learn more about HPV immunization efforts in Chicago. Kelly shared that EverThrive’s Immunization Initiative is tackling immunization efforts from all directions. They participate in grassroots style outreach, offer technical assistance and training, provide both in person and webinar trainings for individuals involved in the medical field, analyze immunization policies to support and propose new policies, and coordinate stakeholder meetings to have conversations about how to advance vaccination efforts. Kelly considers EverThrive Illinois Immunization Initiative a small piece of a collaborative effort.

EverThrive in partnership with the Chicago Health Department and other key stakeholders were able to collaborate in the successful launching of a full scale HPV prevention campaign including marketing efforts, policy changes, and outreach efforts in the city of Chicago. Kelly shared that HPV immunization rates in the city have increased since the advocacy efforts took place. Kelly discussed that the success of the efforts here in Chicago are a motivator to enact similar efforts for the entire state. To make marketing as convenient, consistent, and as accurate as possible, EverThrive Illinois has made a free HPV marketing and outreach toolkit available on their website. Kelly said the most important thing EverThrive’s Immunization Initiative wants the public to know is that the HPV vaccination is a cancer vaccine and by increasing successful immunizations, we are reducing our population’s risk of getting cancer.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Sign

For more information about advocating for cervical health check out our earlier post: http://www.coeinmch.uic.edu/4-ways-to-celebrate-our-cervical-health-all-year-long/

To learn more, check out the following resources:

Photo/image credit & courtesy of Katelyn Talsma, Communications Coordinator at EverThrive Illinois and EverThrive Illinois Vaccination Initiative.

Written by Michelle Chavdar, Research Assistant and UIC MPH Candidate

 


Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: Creating a Better Environment for Children

PEHSU LogoFor the past 15 years, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) have been advocating in communities around the country to educate people about children’s environmental health.  As a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these centers employ health care professionals who are devoted to informing and assisting communities in understanding the role that the environment plays in childhood health outcomes. PEHSUs are committed to protecting this vulnerable age group from the harmful effects of environmental hazards and toxic substances, with a focus on reproductive health in an effort to prevent the detrimental effects of certain exposures very early in development.

The Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one of the PEHSUs that is responsible for providing services to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin (Region 5) along with a unit in Cincinnati, Ohio . The UIC center strives to:

  • Work with communities and parents to teach, support, and interpret results of environmental hazards
  • Provide clinical services for children with environmental health issues
  • Provide technical assistance to public health and environmental agencies on children’s environmental health issues
  • Train pediatricians, environmental and occupational medicine physicians, medical toxicologists, and other health professionals about children’s environmental health
  • Conduct research that helps prevent children’s environmental diseases

The center is under the direction of Dr. Susan Buchanan who focuses on environmental and occupational medicine, and is a Clinical Associate Professor as well as the Director of the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at UIC. Besides pediatric and reproductive environmental health, her research interests include health outcomes of minority, low-income, and immigrant workers. The center is also staffed by a variety of health care professionals including environmental/occupational physicians, pediatric/family physicians, medical toxicologists, pediatric health nurses, and industrial hygienists. The center recently added a reproductive health care professional which has greatly improved the outreach to pregnant women who are at risk for environmental exposures negatively affecting their unborn children.

The staff educates and consults with communities and parents on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, second-hand tobacco smoke, air/water/soil contamination, heavy metal exposures, pollutants, allergens, and pesticides, among many more. Annually, the center reaches 6000-7000 attendees at 75-100 presentations with additional consultation through 150-200 individual phone calls. Through their work they are creating a better environment for young children and their communities.

For more information about the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UIC you can visit their website at http://www.uic.edu/sph/glakes/childrenshealth/.


The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program at UIC

Group photo of LEND students 2015

The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program is a nationally-acclaimed interdisciplinary training program funded through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) that provides professional students with the tools to address disability within a larger context of health care. There are 43 programs at institutions across 37 states, including one at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), that aim to train like-minded individuals from a variety of fields to work with a range of disabilities, ultimately improving the lives of infants, children, and adolescents.

The LEND program at UIC is a highly intensive one-year training program that incorporates didactic learning as well as hands-on experience. Pulling professional students from a range of disciplines (i.e. public health, social work, medicine, etc.), the program meets once a week for a three-hour lecture that is often supplemented by panel discussions involving community members, past LEND trainees, and children and families with special needs. Further requirements include a clinical session every two weeks led by a developmental pediatrician, 300 hours of research or leadership experience, and a final capstone project providing data to be disseminated to the community. LEND also funds each student to go to one conference during the course of the year.

Two UIC MCH students, Alexandra Ibrahim and Tina Schuh, were accepted into the program this year and shared what inspired them to participate in the LEND program.

Alexandra Ibrahim is a second-year Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology student. She was inspired to apply to the LEND program after a presentation by Dr. Kruti Acharya, the Director of LEND at UIC, in the CHSC 511 course last spring. When she worked as a teacher before entering graduate school, she assisted children with various special needs and recognized the gaps in the system that provided these students with the necessary individualized services and support. In her experiences working directly with children with special needs, including a sibling on the Autism spectrum, she became especially interested in working with individuals with disabilities and felt that the LEND program would enhance her career goals in public health, specifically in using epidemiologic data to better inform policy and advocacy to the lives of people with disabilities.

Tina Schuh is a second-year MCH student, who heard the same presentation by Dr. Acharya in CHSC 511, inspiring her to apply to the LEND program at UIC. Tina previously worked for the Peace Corps in Morocco as a Health Educator, and also was the Director of a Boys and Girls Club for two years at an elementary school, where she witnessed similar inconsistencies in addressing the needs of children with disabilities. Her prior experiences with disabilities range from affected family members to nanny positions where she cared for children with special needs. The LEND program has increased her interest in the gaps in mental health services for children with special health care and behavioral needs.

This program is extremely beneficial to young professionals in building leadership skills, networking with other concentrations, and acquiring the tools to work with disability and special needs in a real-world setting. Whether someone has experience in working with disabilities or are relatively new to the field, the LEND program is a wonderful opportunity for exploring how disability is woven into every aspect of our lives and especially among the broader fields of health care, and furthermore, how we can best address and improve the lives of those affected.

For more information about the program you can visit the LEND program website at http://ahs.uic.edu/dhd/lend/.


Life After Graduation as a Presidential Management Fellow

Bree Medvedev , CoE Alumna As a student in the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Concentration at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), like many others, I frequently wondered about my career after graduate school. I knew that I wanted my professional life to reflect my desire to give back to a society that had given me so much, but I was unsure of which path to take.

Late last summer, I stumbled upon the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) Program. The PMF Program is a highly selective leadership program designed to recruit outstanding recent advanced degree graduates for a two-year developmental fellowship with the federal government. As a Fellow, you engage in challenging work assignments, receive excellent training and professional development opportunities, and learn the ins and outs of national programs and initiatives that are crucial to the well-being of our country. I knew immediately that this was the opportunity I had been looking for that would allow me to merge my desire to be a public servant with my graduate education in public health!

After enduring an application and interview process that spanned several months, I was thrilled to see my name on the Finalist list in March for the PMF Class of 2015. I would now be able to apply for PMF-specific positions across the country in every department and agency of the government.

I already knew that I wanted work at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and began to apply for several positions. In June, I was offered a job in Washington, DC under the Office of the Secretary as a Program Analyst in the Office of Budget.

Everyday at HHS is different then the one before and I am able to use the critical thinking, policy analysis, and advocacy skills I gained throughout my time at UIC to develop, analyze, and implement wide-reaching health policy decisions within the MCH field and beyond. Motivated colleagues who share a passion for promoting and improving the health of the nation surround me. There are ample trainings available to me that not only help me build technical skills important to my position, but overarching leadership skills that will further my career in the federal government.

Each day I am proud to go to work, knowing that I am affecting positive change in the health of Americans across the country. The PMF program has given me an opportunity to develop my career in public service and pursue my passion of improving the public health of my fellow citizens.

If you are searching for an opportunity that will challenge you and allow you to develop in your role as a public servant, I recommend checking out the PMF program. The application for the Class of 2016 will be open from September 28-October 13. Good luck!

By Bree Medvedev, MPH
Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Alumna, Class of 2015

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the PMF Program, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the U.S. Government.