When news about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 began to come out of China, College of Public Health graduate student Ian Buchta immediately began learning as much about the disease as he could.
Buchta is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology, the study of how often diseases and health conditions occur in different groups of people and why. Shortly after starting his graduate degree program in the fall of 2018, he took over many responsibilities for the College of Public Health’s podcast, “From the Front Row.”
A goal of the weekly student-run show is to communicate important public health information to a broad audience, so it was a no-brainer for him to use the podcast platform to help others understand more about the pandemic.
“Science is dead if we don’t use it and let people understand what is going on,” Buchta says, noting that the podcasts enable students to “spread the knowledge” about public health.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Buchta and other student podcasters have interviewed experts about how diseases are transferred between animals and humans, the benefits and limits of protective gear, how to prepare for emergencies like a pandemic, the role of telehealth in this outbreak, and how disease spread can be tracked and predicted.
One conversation he enjoyed was with infectious disease researcher and science educator Tara C. Smith, a professor at the Kent State University College of Public Health. They talked about how COVID-19 emerged, how it is spreading, and why people should be concerned.
“We got to tell that story a month before the rest of the media was really telling the narrative that ‘hey, we might have community spread and we need to be thinking about this’,” Buchta says.
Emma Meador, a public health undergraduate student, is also interested in epidemiology. She believes it’s crucial to communicate public health findings with the public. Being on the podcast is helping her hone those skills.
“It’s been really beneficial for me to learn how to appropriately communicate what I’ve learned in a way that people can understand and trust,” Meador says.
She is gaining insight into the different roles public health has during a pandemic.
“Talking to professionals that are focused on infectious disease control and prevention has really helped me see how things are done in the real world and how they stop these diseases from spreading,” she says.
One of her favorite interviews was with Robert Niezgoda, a PhD student in epidemiology at the University of Iowa. He previously worked as a local public health director and an emergency response manager.
“It was really eye-opening for me because I didn’t realize how much goes into emergency preparedness, which is a huge component of public health,” Meador says.
Oge Chigbo is a second-year Master of Public Health student who also works on the podcast. She interviewed health communication expert and University of Iowa College of Public Health professor Rima Afifi.
Chigbo spoke with Afifi about what makes a message effective enough for people to change their behavior.
“Not everyone understands they need to stay home,” Chigbo says about slowing the spread of the virus, “Communication is so important right now.”
Chigbo, who is from Nigeria, says that the reality of this pandemic can be quite different based on where people live, their level of privilege, and how they communicate about it.
“Even being able to practice social distancing is a privilege,” she says.
Chigbo plans to take these lessons in public health and communication into her future to make her a better doctor.
“You need to be able to communicate, interact with, and understand people to give them the best care that they need,” she says.
Though they are working and learning from home, students continue to explore COVID-19 findings on the podcast. Other special guests on the series include Matthew Nonnenmann, UI assistant professor of occupational and environmental health and population ecologist John Drake from the University of Georgia.
“From the Front Row,” can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud.