Category: Student Stories

Sarah Bergen: UIC MCH Trainee Spotlight

As part of a  three part series, we will spotlight UIC MCH trainees who completed their summer applied practice experiences (APE) in summer 2019. This week’s spotlight will shine on Sarah Bergen, who worked at Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago. Here is her experience, shared and written by Madison Levecke an Irving Harris Scholar and a MPH candidate in MCH-Epidemiology.

Author: Madison Levecke, MPH (c), Maternal and Child Health-Epidemiology and Irving Harris Scholar

Sarah Bergen

Sarah completed her Applied Practice Experience at the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago (PHIMC) in Chicago, IL. This organization is a systems-based organization, where they build capacities of other organizations to do work, manage grant funding, and provide fiscal assistance. Sarah worked mainly on school-based programming for adolescent youth, called the School Health Access Collaborative. This collaborative works to improve school-based health centers, health in schools, and mobile care units. PHIMC identified that there are issues with data sharing between Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the healthcare providers that are providing care at these schools for many reasons: the capacity of schools, HIPAA, parental consent, and limited IT capacity to share data.

Sarah worked on creating a data-sharing toolkit that healthcare providers could use to initiate a data sharing agreement with CPS. Sarah was able to meet with CPS many times, and worked  with the Office of Student Health and Wellness. She completed a literature review on data sharing best practices between schools and healthcare providers, as well as created a process map for healthcare providers to use.

Another project she worked on was the Little Village Student Health Initiative. This is an initiative where three community-based organizations were given grants to go into schools and create a partnership to increase “Healthy CPS”. She was able to assist with the evaluation portion of this initiative and wrote a report for the funder.

A third project she worked on was for The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which supports LGBTQ+ youth in schools. Legislation was recently passed in Illinois to have inclusive curriculum in schools on LGBTQ+ individuals throughout history and current events. Near the end of her field experience, she completed research on this piece of legislation.

When asking what the top 3 things she learned this past summer were, Sarah said that she was able to understand the importance of collaboration, and how it can take a long time to conduct quality collaboration in order to have a cohesive end result. Secondly, she learned that she really enjoyed doing evaluations. She is interested to see how data can be interpreted in many different ways, especially qualitative data. Finally, she got firsthand experience witnessing how healthcare systems are so complex, and how multifaceted health systems really are.

Sarah’s advice for first-year students is to start looking for an organization to complete their field experience at early, to look for those UIC connections but to not be afraid to email organizations directly that you are interested in. She found that looking back on past work from first year is a great guide for when you first begin the Applied Practice Experience. Sara also said, “Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and engage with your supervisor to get that feedback”, because many times you are doing things that you have never done before.


Angelica Cabrera: UIC MCH Trainee Spotlight

As part of a  three part series, we will spotlight UIC MCH trainees who completed their summer applied practice experiences (APE) in summer 2019. This week’s spotlight will shine on Angelica Cabrera, who worked at PrimeCare Community Health located in Chicago, IL. Here is her experience, shared and written by Madison Levecke an Irving Harris Scholar and a MPH candidate in MCH-Epidemiology.

Author: Madison Levecke, MPH (c), Maternal and Child Health-Epidemiology and Irving Harris Scholar

This past summer, MCH Trainees participated in field experiences both locally in Chicago, across the US, and internationally. We were able to connect with three Center of Excellence (CoE) in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Masters students. I sat down with them and asked them to share their experiences and advice they would give to first year MPH students just beginning their search for their applied practice experience.  Read their stories below.

Angelica Cabrera

Angelica completed her Applied Practice Experience at PrimeCare Community Health located in Chicago, IL. PrimeCare is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), so they receive funds to help underserved communities such as low income, underrepresented minorities, and immigrant populations. They provide services such as primary care, dental, and behavioral health. Angelica was interested in working in a clinical setting in order to gain experience working directly with patients and families, as she is interested in pediatrics and pursuing medical school after her MPH.

Prior to beginning her field experience, she asked this organization, “What do you need from me?” PrimeCare mentioned that their childhood vaccination rates were low. They see a lot of missed appointments, and wanted to increase awareness about vaccinations for families in the community. Together, Angelica and her preceptor decided on creating a quality improvement project that would eventually be sustainable and increase these vaccination rates over time. Angelica created a 3-phase project: phase 1 included collecting qualitative data, such as information from Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) on which children are on time for their vaccinations, behind on well-child visits or haven’t been to the clinic in a while. From that information, she called the parents of pediatric patients in order to determine barriers that deterred them from making their appointments. Angelica also completed surveys with the clinical staff to understand what their perspective was priority areas of need for their target population. Phase 2 included the distribution of surveys to families of pediatric patients that would come in for well-child visits. These surveys included questions about what they knew about vaccinations, their beliefs on vaccinations, if they knew the importance of well child visits, and if they knew which vaccinations their child needed. Although she is still collecting and analyzing these data, she found that most families are aware of the importance of well-child visits and vaccinations. However, many do not know details about the vaccinations their child needs, or what month to come in for their well-child visit. Phase 3 is just beginning, and Angelica is gathering information on evidence-based interventions that they could possibly implement at the clinic once all data are analyzed. Phase 3 of the quality improvement project will be going into her final Integrative Learning Experience project.

I was interested in hearing about the top three things she learned during her field experience. Angelica said that the number one thing she learned from preceptor is to always ask the community what they need, and to not make any assumptions. She stated that her preceptor, Erin Howes, who is a UIC MCH alum and currently the Manager of Quality Improvement, is always in the clinic talking with patients.  Erin would say, “How are you supposed to serve your community if you don’t know what they need?” Angelica also talked about the importance of measures. This is emphasized in many courses at SPH. However when applying it to a clinical setting, she saw first-hand how critical it is that the measures reflect the actual health of the community. She learned which measures the FQHC gets funding for, and how measures are associated to goals that need to be met each year. If these goals are not being met, it could limit possible funding and therefore have a direct impact on the FQHC’s ability to help their community. The third thing that Angelica mentioned was that teamwork is critical, especially in public health. She recognized how important it is to ensure everyone within a team has quality communication.

Lastly, I asked Angelica if she could give any advice to first-year students about to begin their search for an Applied Practice Experience. She said it is important to reflect on what kind of skills you want to gain. She recommends asking yourself what kind of organization you want to partner with that could potentially give you the experience you needs to be a better professional in your field. She ended the interview by saying, “Keep an open mind because opportunities open when least expected!”

 


Support for Immigrant Families in Mississippi

Authors: Kimberly Silva, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health & Gabrielle Lodge, MPH(c) Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

Truck full of donations from the UIC students, faculty and staff

What Happened?
On August 7, 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security officers raided 7 food processing plants in central Mississippi and detained 680 workers in what was the middle of a work day and the first day of school for most children. Since then, about 300 people were released but remain unemployed and over half still remain detained by ICE.

Labor Day Weekend Drive to Mississippi
After hearing about the raid, 2nd year MPH MCH trainee, Kim Silva, decided to contact the local organization Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA) to ask how she could support the work they were doing to help families impacted by the raids. Kim learned that there was a huge need for donations and monetary support. Kim began collecting items from her parents’ church and after seeing the immense response from people wanting to donate, she reached out to CoE in MCH to see if this effort could be spread throughout the UIC School of Public Health and the UIC campus.  This led to many people from the UIC community donating food, everyday use items, and money to MIRA. The support was so great that students, Kim and Gabrielle Lodge, volunteered to drive down to Mississippi and deliver all donations over Labor Day Weekend, where they met with MIRA’s organizer, Luis Espinoza. Donations went to St. Ann church in Carthage, MS and St. Michael church in Forest, MS. Both churches have served as donation distribution centers and food pantries for immigrant families in need.

Kim Silva and Gabby Lodge drop off donations at St. Ann’s Church in Forest, MS.

What We Learned from the Trip
Kim: I learned that people WANT to help. A lot of times, it’s a matter of asking how to do so and giving folks an outlet to give that support. Once I started asking around, the support that came in was overwhelming in the best way. We witness a lot of injustices happening every day and it breaks our hearts and injures our morale. This donation drive helped remind me that collaborative effort matters and people caring about other people matters. It felt good to know that solidarity exists even in the worst times.

Gabby: I learned the significance of religious institutions, like churches, mosques, and temples, with community health. Not only are they places of worship, but a place for people to receive necessary support whether that is emotional support, financial support, etc. This trip was a reminder of the importance of public health institutions to collaborate with religious institutions for the betterment of community health.

Kim and Gabby with Father Roberto from St. Michael Church in Forest, MS. Fr. Roberto leads two parishes and has been very active in the response to the immigration crisis in Mississippi.

 
How You Can Help!
Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance is a community-based organization that provides public education and legal advocacy. Donating to MIRA will support their efforts to recover stolen wages for immigrant workers, fight police harassment and discrimination, educate communities about immigrant rights, and make sure marginalized voices are heard in the legislative processes (MIRA).

 

Kim and Gabby with volunteers at St. Ann’s Church

 

Special thanks to:
Cindy San Miguel, Arden Handler, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for helping organize this effort.
Amanda Goldstein for creating our flyer.
Melissa Martinez at IHRP for letting us use your office as a Drop-off location.
UI Cancer Center for letting us use your space as a Drop-off location.
Churches House on the Rock and Elim for collecting donations.
To everyone who donated goods, money, time and effort.

 

References:
Mississippi Immigration Rights Alliance (MIRA). (N.D.). The worst ICE raid in our history. Retrieved from
https://yourmira.wpcomstaging.com/2019/08/13/august-2019-raids/


An Island in the Midwest: Illinois’ Abortion Policies

Author: Esther Bier, MPH candidate in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health

Illinois is an island in the Midwest for abortion access. Surrounding states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan all have more restrictive abortion legislation than Illinois. Wisconsin mandates state-sanction counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before someone can terminate their pregnancy1. Indiana recently outlawed the common and safe second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation while permitting medical providers to refuse to participate in abortion care services2. Meanwhile, a recent bill in Ohio would ban almost all private insurance policies from covering abortion care3. And in Michigan, telemedicine is prohibited from managing medical abortions – an issue critical for rural and poorer pregnant people4. Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all require that a parent or guardian give a minor permission to have an abortion. Kansas and Minnesota require parental consent from both parents5. Considering the sea of abortion restrictions in states surrounding Illinois, it is no wonder that more than 5,500 out-of-state pregnant people travelled to Illinois to receive abortion care in 20176.

In contrast, a person can receive an abortion in Illinois without completing state-mandated counseling, a 24-72 hour waiting period, or a government-required ultrasound. Crucially, while minors are not required to provide parental consent to access abortion, they are required to give notice to a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or stepparent. On the surface, such a policy may seem reasonable, with the intention of improving communication and support between parents and children. If minors need parental support to attend a field trip or fill a cavity, surely they should be required to consult a parent about their choice to have an abortion. Many supporters of the law use their own children and their hypothetical pregnancies to bolster their support: “I would want my child to talk to me, wouldn’t you?” or “I should be involved in my child’s healthcare, as is every parent’s right”.

While such simplistic statements seem reasonable on the surface, one must consider the law’s dangerous implications. Minors who feel comfortable discussing their desire for an abortion with a parent do not need a law forcing them to do so. Conversely, minors who feel unsafe telling a parent they are pregnant and obtaining an abortion likely feel scared for legitimate reasons. Minors might fear violence or abandonment from a parent if they are discovered to be pregnant. They might be kicked out from home. They might fear retaliation in the form of economic abuse or neglect. Consider the fact that state-mandated dialogue between minors and their parents do not yield a supporting and communicative relationship. The state of Illinois is therefore placing these minors in highly unsafe terrain by forcing them to tell their parent or guardian that they are pregnant.

Enter the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project by the ACLU of Illinois. Minors who do not qualify for a legal (like if they are married) or medical emergency exception can have the parental notification requirement waived by a judge. The ACLU provides free legal services to minors who seek such waivers as well as a hotline service for callers to receive information about the program. I am a volunteer on this hotline every other week for two and a half hours. Volunteers are trained to understand the details of the parental notification law as well as how to discuss such intricacies for young people likely in the midst of a lonely and scary struggle. While receiving a legitimate phone call from a minor looking for legal services is uncommon during my shifts, it is important that the hotline exists and is ready to provide answers to pregnant people and their significant others in need.

I recently attending the ACLU of Illinois annual luncheon to celebrate their successes and the legal battles ahead. The hotel ballroom was packed with roughly two thousand people and a stage filled with headliner performances. Speech topics ranged from immigration to trans rights to voting access. In my own experience, abortion is not directly mentioned in large gathering such as this; lesser charged language such as “women’s rights” or “reproductive freedom” is used. I was therefore surprised when multiple speakers directly mentioned abortion access as a current and pressing issue for the ACLU. Representative Jan Schakowsky spoke passionately about repealing the Hyde Amendment (the federal law that bans federal money from paying for abortions) and making abortion care more accessible. She received a round of applause when she said that “Roe was not the beginning of abortion in the US, it was the end of women dying from abortion.” Similarly, Colleen Connell, the executive director of ACLU of Illinois, spoke of the nation-wide attempt to reverse Roe – the very law that allowed so many people access to jobs, income, and professional development. Roe underpins the right to access appropriate medical services, to raise or not raise a child, and to bodily autonomy and education. Reversing Roe would signal an end to personal freedom and devaluation for all people who can become pregnant.

This is why I volunteer for the Judicial Bypass hotline and the ACLU: everyone deserves the right to live the life they chose. Access to healthcare and insurance should not be dependent on one’s zip code and immigration status. Everyone should enjoy bodily autonomy, regardless of age. If there is one concept I have learned during my first year as an master of public health student, it is that the health of an individual impacts the health of the larger society. When people are given the tools to succeed, their communities prosper and their health outcomes improve. This is what public health is fighting for and why I am in the fight for the long haul.

 

 

  1. Carafem. Abortion Access in Wisconsin. Carafem Web site. https://carafem.org/abortion-access-in-wisconsin/. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  2. Gupta P. Indiana Strikes a Blow to the Heart of Abortion Access. The Slot Web site. https://theslot.jezebel.com/indiana-strikes-a-blow-to-the-heart-of-abortion-access-1834303489. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  3. North A. The Controversial Abortion Bills Sweep the Country this Week, Explained. Vox Web site. https://www.vox.com/2019/5/10/18564436/ohio-abortion-bill-law-alabama-georgia-details. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
  4. Guttmacher Institute. State Facts about Abortion: Michigan. 2018. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-michigan.
  5. Planned Parenthood. Parental Consent and Notification Laws. 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/preventing-pregnancy-stds/parental-consent-and-notification-laws.
  6. Leventis Lourgos A. More than 5,500 Women came to Illinois to have an Abortion Last Year Amid Growing Restrictions in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune. November 20 2018. Available from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-abortion-numbers-illinois-out-of-state-20181129-story.html.

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.

 

 


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 Integrative Learning Experience 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.


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.


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

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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.


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  Integrative Learning Experience 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/.