Category: Current Students

National Public Health Week: Honoring Community Health Workers

For National Public Health Week, the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health (CoE-MCH) would like to highlight important people working with some of the most vulnerable populations in maternal and child health. On April 4th, we would like to honor community health workers and folks who do work around birth justice. We invite you to read about amazing individuals who have dedicated their lives to improve the overall health and well-being of women and children. Click on the picture or name of the community health worker below to learn more about their work!

 

Angel Griffin

Angel Griffin is a first-year Master of Public Health student studying Maternal and Child Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Health at Xavier University of Louisiana in 2016. Outside of school, she is a birth doula serving Chicago mothers through Chicago Volunteer Doulas.

 

Ana Mendez

Ana Mendez has been a community health worker for over 12 years. As a young mother herself, Ana experiences first-hand the systemic forces that can impact a family’s capacity to be healthy. Ana decided to dedicate her career to advocating and working with other young mothers as a home visitor and as a community-based doula. She is currently a family support worker for Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness in the Healthy Families of America program, while working on her bachelor’s degree at St. Augustine College.

 

Xavier Ramirez

Xavier Ramirez earned a Bachelor of Arts in Latina/Latino Studies and a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. Then, he received a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago in 2017. Xavier is currently a perinatal case manager at Pediatric Aids Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI) with the University of Chicago where he works with pregnant women who are HIV-positive.

 

 


How Feminism Made me a Voter

Author: Isabella Litwack, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

When I turned 18 years old, I did not vote in the 2012 election. This crucial birthday fell when I was in the middle of my senior year of high school. My true belief at the time was that voting was a useless waste of my time, and my singular vote could never possibly fix a system that was so terribly broken. As I write this as an almost 23-year-old, I know that this attitude came from a place of privilege. I was thinking from the standpoint of someone who grew up white, upper-middle class, educated, healthy, and soon going off to college with no loans taken out. Maybe I felt like I didn’t need to vote because I was living in a system that was actually somewhat working for me. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my college career, when feminism and activism became a major part of my life, that I realized my previous views about politics and voting were misguided. Although I had begun to recognize my privilege, I also was learning exactly what being a woman in America, specifically in Indiana, meant. I began reading books about feminism, culture, and health, and a cord within me struck. Then, Trump became President and I realized how much of a difference all of those singular votes could have made, especially after realizing that about 100 million people did not vote at all (Ingraham, 2016). After the election, I knew I had to be an advocate for reproductive justice, the physical, mental, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, and I knew exactly where I was going to do it.

Planned Parenthood (PP) is probably my grandmother’s favorite organization in the world. My entire family supports PP proudly, and I could not wait to see how I could help (little did I know how much PP would get me politically involved). When I came to Chicago, I joined a Planned Parenthood group on campus, and became a Planned Parenthood Illinois Action (PPIA) volunteer. On January 24, I volunteered for their Roe v Wade anniversary fundraiser, where the theme was “Act. Vote. Win!”. The event featured political leaders, state representatives, aldermen, and people who hope to take a local office in the upcoming Illinois elections. One of PPIA’s main focus points of the year is to encourage people in Illinois to vote, specifically for someone who has PPIA’s stamp of approval. They showed a video of the women’s march, and other events that happened in 2017, and inspired the crowd to make their way to the poles in 2018. Trump’s election made me truly realize how important it is to vote, but this event solidified that belief even more. That election also showed me the importance of voting beyond presidential elections, such as congressional /and local elections as well. Policies that shape and determine women’s health vary vastly from state to state and it is critical that folks show up to the polls and vote for candidates that will protect women’s right and women’s health. If every young person believes what I used to believe, that their vote couldn’t possibly change anything, then we are losing a significant number of votes from people who could make an impact on any election. If people vote for what they believe in, they can be active participants in their communities, and see the changes that they feel are important to them.

References:
Ingraham, C. (2016). About 100 million people couldn’t be bothered to vote this year. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/12/about-100-million-people-couldnt-be-bothered-to-vote-this-year/?utm_term=.b734b3a9acfc


MCH Student Op-ed: Don’t call it universal without including abortion coverage

By: Vidya Visvabharathy, MPH (c)

As Sen. Bernie Sanders prepares to introduce a universal health care bill in the next few weeks, many progressives who support a universal single-payer program worry about its effects on abortion access. Can we win Medicare for all while protecting hard-won reproductive rights? As a woman of color, a reproductive rights advocate, and graduate student of public health, I recognize the importance for marginalized groups to stand in solidarity for progress to happen. I urge single-payer advocates to push to repeal the Hyde Amendment as part of our fight for truly universal health care.

It’s no surprise that the majority of Americans support a national health program. Although the U.S. spends twice as much on health care than other industrialized nations, key health outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality fare much worse as compared to our international counterparts. Most of this difference in spending can be traced to our fractured, profit-based insurance industry, which wastes nearly a quarter of our health care dollars on billing, advertising and profits, none of which contribute to quality of care. In contrast, a single-payer health program is a universal health care model that is publicly financed and covers all Americans for medically-necessary care, such as doctor visits, hospital stays, long-term care, and drugs.

Single-payer has been a long-standing progressive cause, and would seem to have no problem gaining support from all progressive groups. However, many women’s advocacy groups are hesitant to back a single-payer system because it could restrict access to abortion. The Hyde Amendment, passed in1976 after the landmark Roe v. Wade case legalized abortion, bans all federal funding for abortion services except in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment to the mother. Therefore, a single-payer program could not fund abortion, unless explicitly stating that reproductive and abortion services would also be covered. Single-payer advocates should ally with women’s advocates and work to repeal the Hyde Amendment to increase support for both causes.

Progressives can learn a lot from efforts to enact single-payer programs at the state level. For example, in November 2016, Colorado lawmakers tried to enact a health care system similar to single-payer, known as ColoradoCare. However, NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) opposed the plan because it would leave more than 550,000 women without access to  abortion services due to the state’s constitutional ban on funding for abortions except for life-threatening circumstances. Many women who have access to abortion services through private insurance plans would have lost this coverage under ColoradoCare. According to a statement by NARAL, the bill “is not truly universal” since it does not guarantee abortion services. Ignoring reproductive health caused ColoradoCare to lose key supporters necessary to win universal care.

The statewide single-payer legislation in New York serves as a promising model that explicitly incorporates reproductive services in the health system. The program, known as New York Health, covers all medically-necessary services that are currently covered by the state Medicaid program, including abortions. Diverse health organizations such as New York State Family Physicians and the Reproductive Health Access Project were heavily involved in crafting the bill from the start, underscoring the need for single-payer and women’s health groups to build legislation together.

In order to avoid the mistakes of ColoradoCare at both the state and national level, single-payer groups must explicitly advocate for coverage of abortion services, and work with reproductive health advocates to repeal the Hyde Amendment. While it is laudable that the single-payer advocacy organization Physicians for a National Health Program recently released a statement supporting abortion coverage, supporting causes ideologically is not enough. Reproductive health services, including abortion, must be explicitly written into any single-payer bill. If we want a universal health care system, it must be a system that covers comprehensive reproductive services as well.

Vidya is an MPH student completing her degree in MCH-Epidemiology. Her research interests include women’s health and reproductive justice. In the future, she hopes to practice as a physician-advocate for marginalized populations in Chicago. 

This article was originally posted on KevinMD at the following link:

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2017/09/dont-call-universal-without-including-abortion-coverage.html


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.


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/.


MCH Student Practicum Experiences 2015

We were able to connect with two Center of Excellence (CoE) in Maternal in Child Health (MCH) Masters students who completed their field practicums over the summer. We asked them to share their experiences and tell us what coursework helped them prepare for the programs.  Read their stories below.

Student internship program. Picture of the student and her preceptorMCH Epidemiology (EPI) Student Participates in Graduate Student EPI Program (GSEP) in Oregon

I had the privilege of participating in the Graduate Student Epidemiology Program (GSEP) at the Health Authority in Portland, Oregon. The GSEP internship is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) and allows students to partake in MCH Epidemiology projects in state, local or tribal government settings. This summer, I worked on two projects that allowed me to use my classroom knowledge in a real world setting.

My first project focused on an analysis of Oregon youth participating in the “Choking Game,” a strangulation activity in which adolescents cut off oxygen to the brain in order to achieve temporary euphoria. Oregon is the only state conducting statewide surveillance on Choking Game participation, and our research is the first to focus on children at highest risk of injury or death – youth who participate alone. My work consisted of a literature review, statistical analysis using STATA, and draft manuscript to be considered for publication in a national journal. I will also be presenting our findings at the 2015 APHA Annual Meeting.

My second project, a cost-benefit analysis of flu vaccines administered through School Based Health Centers (SBHC), pushed me to use my analytical skills in a new realm – business and finance. My analysis demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of SBHCs across Oregon and the financial formula spreadsheets I produced can be leveraged by other states to illustrate the importance of their own SBHCs.

Over the summer, it became evident that my UIC training had prepared me to tackle these projects in an efficient and capable manner. My epidemiology, biostatistics, and MCH courses provided not only the skills necessary to complete assigned tasks, but the knowledge to apply my skills to real-world research questions. In addition, I came away with the following lessons learned:

  1. Focus on the details, but never lose site of the big picture. Learning to review the data and understand how it made sense in the big picture helped me conceptualize my findings and bridge the gap between research and broader health policy.
  2. Collaboration is key. While the majority of my work was completed with my preceptor, it was necessary to seek additional insight and feedback from other subject matter experts. Effective communication and collaboration skills are essential for future public health professionals, and I saw firsthand the value of strong working relationships.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. At the beginning, I was often nervous that my approach was flawed and found myself wishing for a non-existent answer key. With the support of my mentor, I became more comfortable taking leaps, making guesses and learning to make mistakes, which helped me grow and become more confident in my abilities.

By Alexandra Ibrahim, CoE in MCH EPI student

 

Cindy San Miguel, CoE student with leadership award MCH Student Participates in MCH Paired Practica Program in Michigan

I completed the National MCH Workforce Development Center’s Paired Practica at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in the Children’s Special Health Care Services (CSHCS) division. The practicum focuses on developing the next generation of MCH professionals by pairing a graduate student from a Maternal Child Health Program with an undergraduate student from Howard University.

My mentee and I worked on a project for the CSHCS’s Family Center, a parent-driven unit providing emotional support and resources to families of children and youth with special health care needs. Acknowledging that technological advances have created new opportunities for communication, our project focused on:

  • How the division communicates with families today,
  • What families feel about the current communication, and
  • What families want to see in the future.

We designed the entire analysis, from conducting a literature review, to gathering data and reporting final results. Twenty-eight families were recruited and administered a mixed methods survey (multiple choice and open-ended questions). We also created a database documenting the social media presence of the 45 Local Health Departments. Our findings were then presented to division leader, who are now working to implement our recommendations. I was surprised at how much I relied on my coursework throughout the summer. I had not worked with this population before, so I returned to lectures from my MCH courses to better understand the issues facing parents of children with special healthcare needs. The spring MCH Systems course (CHSC 511) was particularly helpful in preparing for the practicum. One of my other projects was to track the monthly budget for an epilepsy grant, and I used my budgeting slides from the spring Integrated Core course.

While it is difficult to narrow down, the top three things I learned this summer were:

  1. Mentorship is incredibly important. My practicum reminded me of the value of having a good support system. A lot of us will end up in leadership positions, and the experience of mentoring another student helped me prepare for future leadership roles.
  2. Care coordination is essential. We acknowledge care coordination as an issue in our courses, but working with families who have children with really complicated medical issues, allowed me to understand the burden families face when coordinating the multitude of services for their children.
  3. Remember to humanize our communities. Each individual makes up the community, and individual stories are indicative of what is happening at the broader population level. It was heartbreaking to see families’ day-to-day struggles, but also encouraging to know that when we do good public health work, we can improve families’ everyday lives.

By Cindy San Miguel, CoE in MCH student


MCH Students Champion Human Milk Banking

1965420_823145687700167_1210488824_oThe Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, a non-profit donor human milk bank, was established in January 2011 with the mission to provide pasteurized donor human milk to premature and low-birth-weight babies in the Wisconsin and Illinois region. Our most fragile babies’ lives rely on human milk. Their sensitive and underdeveloped digestive systems have special feeding needs in which formula feeding may do more harm than good. Infant formula lacks the anti-infective and anti-inflammatory ingredients found in natural human milk that can help prevent intestinal conditions such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and other long-term health complications that are prevalent in premature babies. Several studies have shown that infants that are born premature who receive even partial human milk feedings leave the hospital earlier and are less likely to develop NEC. Donating breast milk gives lactating mothers an opportunity to use their excess milk supply to save a premature infant’s life, and is also seen as a bereavement strategy for grieving mothers who recently lost their infant.

Jennifer Anderson, a current UIC Maternal and Child Health (MCH) student and Executive Director of the organization, has been growing and managing the extensive network of milk bank supporters and donor milk drop-off centers, or depots, in Wisconsin and Illinois. The organization’s outreach efforts have focused on raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and public health professionals, about ways to incorporate pasteurized donor milk as a standard feeding practice in hospital neonatal intensive care units.

905877_925805840767484_6112119766324253393_o

In January 2014, a group of UIC MCH classmates formed the Associate Board of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes with the goal of increasing awareness among young professionals and garnering support with regard to the importance of human milk access. Since its inception, the Associate Board has hosted a screening of the documentary “Donor Milk” to bring awareness of the issue, held several fundraising events, and assisted with planning the Mother’s Milk Bank 2014 Race to Save Tiny Lives 5K Run/Walk. The funds raised have directly contributed to opening the milk processing facility in Northern Illinois.

This year, the Associate Board is actively pursuing the establishment of additional milk depots in order to make the donation process easier for mothers living within the city of Chicago. Members are also excited to be assisting with the Inaugural Human Milk Banking Conference, hosted by the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, taking place in November 2015 at the NIU Hoffman Estates Conference Center.

10365315_966815979999803_1042634725965134391_oWe are always seeking new members who are dedicated to providing human milk to the most vulnerable infants in our region. To stay updated on our meetings and events, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Bree Medvedev, MPH in MCH Candidate, and Tamara Kozyckyj, MPH and Maternal and Child Health Program Alum


Meet Amy Solsman – Current MCH Epidemiology Student

Amy Solsman (right) with a friend in Shalisi, South Africa

Before moving to Chicago to study Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology at UIC, Amy Solsman spent two years in Shalisi, a rural village in South Africa, with the Peace Corps teaching math to 120 5th graders. While not a regular element of the math curriculum, Amy taught her students about HIV prevention and contraception. She felt that this was especially important due to the high prevalence of HIV in the area and the relative silence and stigma surrounding the virus in the village. She taught her students about dental hygiene and good tooth brushing habits. Amy also established a Permagarden Committee that created a school garden and provided nutritional education. Her passion to improve the health literacy and the health status of her students was a result from, in part, bearing witness to the unjust, negative consequences of a lack of access to resources and health care.

unnamedAmy said that working for a year at the Boys and Girls Club and her two years as a math teacher in South Africa “helps me keep perspective in the classroom because if you want to make a difference, you have to understand who you are serving.” The skills she is learning at the UIC School of Public Health (UIC SPH) are helping her further put her passion into practice. Amy is MPH candidate with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. She feels that she is getting tangible and applicable skills in research and data analysis, and the Maternal and Child Health Program’s leadership training is better preparing her for the workforce where capabilities in leadership are needed and valued.

Amy chose the Amy 2UIC SPH because of the MCH Epidemiology Program, and because the curriculum incorporates community based participatory research (CBPR) models and has a focus on local, state-wide, and national public health issues. Upon acceptance to UIC, Amy was awarded the Irving Harris Maternal and Child Health Assistantship. As a Research Assistant for the MCHP, Amy has had the opportunity to work on a study with Dr. Arden Handler that focuses on improving the utilization of the postpartum visit for increasing postpartum contraception use.

Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate