January From The Director post – Understanding others and challenging stereotypes

Hello MPH Students!  Welcome back to the College for what will undoubtedly be an amazing spring semester!! I hope that you all had a chance to rest and be with friends and family over the winter break.  January is a month of new starts and resolutions.  I realized many years ago that making resolutions to eat better or drink more water or get to the gym more days per week were not realistic or sustainable.  Instead I try to spend the first few days of the month thinking about what I can do differently that can have an impact–whether that is at work or at home or in the community.  This year for me the thing that has aligned is focusing my work endeavors on advancing health equity.  What does that mean for an epidemiologist?  Well it means answering questions like Can we learn more about how to measure social determinants of health and health equity at state and local levels?  Can we understand what health equity means in rural communities? Health equity doesn’t miraculously happen in the doctor’s office, so what are the community interventions/programs/policies that are needed to advance the health of all?  Can we understand what areas local communities want to address and how to determine effectiveness?  How can we raise the conversation of what health equity means from social, economic, and political perspectives?  How can we get people at all levels of government to listen?  I think there are many of us at the College, at the University and beyond who are interested in answering these kinds of questions.

Thinking about health equity is not just a conversation for academics or public health practitioners or legislators.  Conversations about equity and social justice happen at home too.  Just a day or so ago, my son came home from school with an interesting assignment–to describe what a stereotype is and then to give examples of stereotypes that he might have experienced.  We are of Indian descent so he talked about some of the stereotypes that people have of people who look like us/sound like us/have names like ours.  There can be positive stereotypes (Indians are all good at math) and negative stereotypes (Indians have funny accents or eat strange food).  But the basic issue is that stereotypes are inherently wrong because not everyone of a particular place or religion or social class or skin color will think or act or be all one thing.  Stereotypes are hurtful and don’t allow us to actually learn anything about the other person. Oddly enough, this was on the same exact day as the breaking news of what our President said about people coming to the US from certain “s——e” countries (I will refrain from using the language that was all over the news but I think you will know what I am referring to).  I won’t go into a diatribe about how offensive and ill-informed and even racist the statement is.  I hope that leaders on all sides will voice disgust at the utter disgraceful behavior that the President has demonstrated and will call for rational and thought out conversation that will inform policy.  I am all for policies that protect our borders and vet who comes into our country but then these policies must apply to everyone who wishes to enter the US, whether from Africa, or Haiti, or even Norway.  The news media claims that the President says these things to play to his base. Perhaps that is what we really need to think about.  Why is there a base that will think positively about this kind of rhetoric and what can we do to change that? How can we show people that health equity and social justice doesn’t just help “those people”, it helps everyone.

That brings me to my last thought for this edition–January 15 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  You will find many events throughout the College and the University in the upcoming weeks.  On January 24 during the Spotlight Series slot, the College is sponsoring The Privilege Walk in conjunction with the showing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech as part of the 2018 MLK Celebration of Human Rights Week.  Please attend.  Be part of the conversation.  Be part of the solution.

We are happy to have you all back and look forward to a great semester!

December From The Director post – Reviewing, Recharging, and Recommitting

Hello MPH Students!  The first Monday of December!  Where did the semester go?  As we start off the last week of classes for the fall semester and move into final exams and then thoughts of winter break, I wanted to encourage you in a few different ways:

First–Reviewing.  As the end of the semester classes, exams, projects, etc. come into full view over the next couple of weeks this is an opportunity to review what you have learned this semester and to think about how it prepares you for a future in public health.  Right now you are undoubtedly very focused on working biostatistics problems or putting together that final paper/project and preparing for exams but remember, the knowledge and skills that you are gaining each semester in the College of Public Health is bringing you one step closer to making an impact in your community through public health practice.  Reflect on what you have learned.  Some of you came into the program with some good knowledge of public health but all of you have certainly learned something new this semester.  What was it?  What really got you excited?  What made you think about how you could Be The Change?

Second–Recharging.  Join us on Monday December 11 for a day of stress-relieving activities.  We have all kinds of events planned to get you away from your desk and freshen your mind.  Make sure to join us for a stress-free, comfort food lunch!!  And as you start the winter break take some time off to refresh and recharge.  You’ve worked hard this semester and you need to take some time to let things sink in and percolate in your mind.  Some of you will go home and spend time with your family, or maybe you have an exciting trip planned, or maybe you will work or otherwise engage in productive adventures.  Whatever you have planned, I hope that you enjoy it all and take time for yourself.  While our main goals are related to your academic endeavors, we want each one of you to thrive and excel and this includes your life outside of the College.

Third–Recommitting. Before we know it January will be here and we will be welcoming you all back to the College for the spring semester.  What things do you want to get involved with?  What opportunities do you want to make for yourself?  What challenges are out there to be conquered?  There are many important public health issues that we will face in 2018.  We have many things planned in the College.  And we will need all of you to be involved and engaged to be successful.



Have a good month!  Best wishes for a healthy and rejuvenating winter break.  See you back in January!!

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!