November From The Director post – So what do they want to know?

Hello MPH Students!  Wow, it’s November already!  Hard to believe the end of semester is now in sight!  I want to briefly point attention backwards a bit to two wonderful visitors that we had visit our College in October–Dr. Camara Jones and former United States Senator Tom Harkin.  While the visits were very different in many ways, I came away from each of the sessions I attended with these two people with a great deal of excitement for the importance and value that public health has in 2017, a renewed commitment to the work that we do every day in public health,  and the aspiration to keep moving health and health equity forward.  This was in a way a great set up for a guest we had last week on November 1. Mary Woolley is the President of Research!America, a grassroots public education and advocacy organization focused on teaching the public about the importance of health research.  She made a very convincing plea for us as scientists to get beyond the Ivory Tower (my words, not hers) and think about how we can more effectively share the work that we do with the public and with decision makers at all levels of government.  She spoke about the role each of us can play in public health advocacy and the collective impact that can come from each of us reaching out to learn about what people know and want to know and how we can make the general public more aware of what science is, where it is done, and how it impacts their lives every single day.  I was especially intrigued by Mary’s thoughts on how to engage students and the importance of teaching them the skills to do this kind of work.  Advocacy is the theme of the month for me as I will have the pleasure of welcoming Jeneane Moody, the Executive Director of IPHA, and Cara Hamann, an Associate in the Department of Epidemiology, to my Introduction to Public Health class to talk about public health advocacy later this month.  I can’t wait!

Before signing off, I’d like to give a big shout out to all our public health colleagues from the College of Public Health and from around Iowa who will be attending APHA this week!

And finally, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I only recently became aware of a very important annual public health event–on the Monday before Thanksgiving, APHA and Research!American as well as other public health organizations (including the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa) take time out to celebrate Public Health Thank You Day.  Remember, public health touches all parts of our lives and when it is working it is invisible.  Public Health professionals on the other hand should not be invisible–send a note, share a hashtag (#thankyoupublichealth), and otherwise celebrate the work done by practitioners all over the country and the world.

Have a good month!

From the MPH Director – It’s National Preparedness Month!

This has been a challenging week for public health and it seems appropriate that September is National Preparedness Month.  You will see many references to this throughout the College and across many professional organizations and activities over the coming month.  Preparedness is on everyone’s mind in every city in America now.  What happened in Houston last week due to Hurricane Harvey is unprecedented and like many of you I have been struck speechless by pictures of the devastation and tragedy everywhere in that city.  Remarkably, amidst all of the water and destruction, there have been wonderful stories and pictures of all the hard work and heroic efforts of police, rescue workers, and average residents of Houston.  Two things in particular caught my attention:

  1. NPR interview with Dr. Usmair Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health

Dr. Shah is the Exec Dir of Harris County Public Health in Texas.  He has been interviewed on NPR and on TV numerous times during the past 10 days.  He has been very clear on what needs to be done–the main immediate goal was to get residents of Houston out of harms way.  He also clearly articulated the importance not only of physical health but also the unseen impact on the community’s mental health and well-being.  Finally, he stressed that officials on the ground need to tell the truth and say what needs to be said.  He stressed that people will understand if you can’t do something but they will not understand if you say you can and then you don’t.  I hope officials from the center of Houston to Washington DC and Atlanta GA and back all hear that message.  No one expects everything to be perfect and back to normal immediately but the residents of Houston need to know that their best interest is at the heart of all of the decisions being made—financial, health, infrastructure, political, economic, etc.  Dr. Shah will be very busy in the coming weeks and months dealing with all the public health issues that come with a disaster like this.  I think he is a man up to the challenge.

  1. Article on Slate.com by Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz visited CPH in November 2016 as the College’s first journalist in residence and gave a talk entitled “In the Public Interest: The Media and Public Health”.  Jonathan is an award winning author and was the only full-time news reporter in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake.  He also later broke the story that UN soldiers were the likely cause of a post-earthquake cholera outbreak that killed thousands of Haitians.  So Jonathan knows a thing or two about disasters and the public health response.  Jonathan is undoubtedly a thought leader in the area of the media and public health and humanitarian efforts so I was eager to read this piece that I came upon on Slate.com.  Basically he takes the American Red Cross to task for not effectively managing the donations that they receive for the purposes that they were meant for.  I found the article made me a little nervous—this is the Red Cross we are talking about.  They help people.  They help lots of people in times of disaster and crisis.  We can’t expect that everything that they do is perfect and without mistake.  They mean well and that’s what is needed.  But on further reflection, I think that Jonathan has a point.  We cannot let the big name and reputation of the Red Cross or the government or any other organization for that matter just accept our money and have no accountability for how and where it was spent.  Communication and transparency have to be paramount.  We need to feel that our money was well spent and that it was spent by people and organizations who know what needs to be done and when in all sectors of a recovery.  The Red Cross cannot do everything on it’s own.  The money that people want to donate has to go across many different organizations and sectors to be most effectively used to rebuild Houston.  It is the people living in Houston that are the only concern moving forward.  Maybe we do need to think about who gets to decide what they need and when.

The residents, government, and institutions in Houston will spend the next days, months and even years very focused on their basic needs and how to rise up from this event.  It is incumbent on the rest of us to make sure that we stay focused on what our government (at all levels) can do to help the people and city recover financially; on making sure that the public health needs of Houston are constantly on the radar; that people are not exploited by insurance companies and others in this time of greatest need; that people can get the services and aid that they need; and that there is accountability on the part of government and organizations of all types in how money is spent and what outcomes are achieved.  No one expects everything to run perfectly or be fixed immediately, but the rest of us need to make sure that things are improving for Houston every day and not get distracted by the next thing to come along.

MPH From The Director: Welcome

Hello MPH students!!  My name is Anjali Deshpande.  I am the Director of the MPH program and a Clinical Associate Professor of Epidemiology here at the University of Iowa.  It is my pleasure to welcome all of our new and returning students to campus!  It has been a lovely summer here in Iowa City, but the Fall semester brings a great sense of excitement to all of us here in the College of Public Health (CPH) as students arrive on campus!

I hope that you find the year ahead to be challenging in and out of the classroom.  You will find that your classes and professors will force you to think beyond what you thought possible and will give you a sense of the spark and passion and commitment to public health that will guide you forward.

Get involved in the College and in the community!  There are a variety of activities and events for you to get involved with every day here at the College, at the University, and even in Iowa City.  These range from the community service projects that you will participate in this week, the College of Public Health picnic on September 8, involvement in the CPH student associations, College seminars and speaker events, and so much more.  We are public health and getting involved is what we do!

Finally, we’ve spent the summer changing a few things around the College.  The first is the Student Commons area on the second floor.  It is a wonderful space to study, visit with friends, and engage in discussion.  I look forward to seeing you there!  Second, we will be launching an MPH seminar series this year.  It will give all of us the opportunity to think about public health issues and engage in professional development together. More on that later…

This ‘From the MPH Director’ blog is a new feature this year and allows me to share interesting public health news as well as College news with you.  You can expect a new post from me on the first Monday of each month and maybe a bonus post now and then for emerging news/ events.  Also, keep up to date on what’s going on in the MPH program by connecting with us on our Facebook page.

Please come and introduce yourself to us!  Lexie Just, Jeanie Kimbel, and Justin Denman are in a new location on the first floor in the Student Services office and I am across the atrium from them in the Dean’s office (S141).

Looking forward to a great semester!