Student Reflections from APHA 2022

The mission of the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy (LHC) is to connect and support those seeking to improve health outcomes through policy. A key aim in achieving pursuing our mission is to empower students to affect policy change. We support students’ growth in public health policy and advocacy through our Health Policy Ambassadors program, internship opportunities, and resources available to all UAB students. We have also collaborated with the Sparkman Center for Global Health on the annual Global Health Case Competition, connected students with community partners, and hosted MPH internships. In 2022, thanks to the initiative of a group of four students, we supported four students in attending the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

The American Public Health Association hosts its Annual Meeting and Expo (APHA) in late October or early November each year. This is an opportunity for over 12,000 public health professionals – clinical researchers, health officers, lawyers, academics, and so many more – to engage with and learn from one another. Hundreds of concurrent sessions over four days feature the latest developments on programs, policies, commentaries, interventions, and research in public health. Four students who had participated in LHC programs decided to submit two abstracts to the conference organizers. Both were accepted!

Four Exceptional Students

APHA22 StudentsFrom left to right: Banks Stamp, Emma Kate Sellers, Katie Lovelady, and Sarah Van Winkle

Students who participated in last year’s Global Health Case Competition and Health Policy Ambassadors cohort submitted abstracts to APHA in the spring semester. These students include:

  • Katie Lovelady, an undergraduate Industrial Distribution major;
  • Emma Kate Sellers, who graduated in the fall with her MPH;
  • Banks Stamp, an Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s student pursuing an MPA; and
  • Sarah Van Winkle, an undergraduate Physics major.

The 2022 Global Health Case Competition tasked participants with addressing the health needs of Maasai elders in southwestern Kenya. The case was developed in close partnership with the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy, with the goal of generating innovative solutions to promote lung health, eye health, and cancer prevention. One group – comprised of Lovelady, Stamp, and Van Winkle – submitted their proposed intervention as an application to Clinton Global Initiative University, a program which supports college students in their commitment to change the world. Their proposal was accepted, and they have diligently worked with Conservancy leadership and UAB faculty to fine-tune their proposal for implementation. This team participated in the roundtable “Promoting Education and Awareness Across the Cancer Continuum.”

The Health Policy Ambassadors program pairs interdisciplinary teams of students with Birmingham-area community partners to identify and address policy issues. Sellers, Stamp, and Van Winkle participated in the 2021-2022 cohort on three separate teams and decided to share their experiences in the program at APHA. The objective of the presentation was to encourage other public health programs to adopt similar strategies to promote engagement in advocacy among public health professionals. This group presented in the “Student Training and Public Health Workforce Development” poster session. All four students were asked to reflect on their experience at APHA. General themes from these reflections are outlined below.

Project and Professional Development

When asked why they decided to go through with attending the conference, each noted the potential benefit to the projects they were presenting. The Conservancy group sought to learn from experts in cancer prevention and global health. “I knew I needed to learn from experts on how to successfully collaborate with international partners on a joint program,” recalled Van Winkle. “Because we were able to present to national global health leaders, our team was able to refine our plan and build a more successful program.” The Ambassadors group also sought to learn from public health experts engaged in advocacy, with an additional goal to encourage other academic public health programs to engage students with advocacy. All four students were determined to use the conference to improve their work.

All four students noted that their professional skills and networks developed in addition to their projects. Sellers had presented other conferences before, but due to the pandemic those opportunities were virtual. For her, this “first opportunity to present a poster in person was a really great opportunity for personal and professional growth.” Stamp described taking full advantage of the opportunity to “practice skills in networking, public speaking, and communicating academic research to subject-matter experts and the public.” Indeed, all four students identified networking as a key benefit to attending the conference. Lovelady added that connections she made with industry professionals have already proven beneficial to her!

A Sense of Learning and Community

APHA showcases the broad scope of public health. In addition to attending their own sessions, students found they were able to learn from presenters in other sessions with topics unrelated to their own expertise. Sellers recalled attending her peers’ roundtable session, noting that it became a highlight for her. “I have not learned much about cancer or done any research on the topic, but I learned so much from the presentations and was able to relate the content to migrant health,” said Sellers. “I learned about cancer screening within specific migrant communities in NYC, a cancer education pilot program used for migrant farm workers in Oregon, and cancer caused by H. Pylori which mainly affects immigrants from East Asia.”

As a Physics major, Van Winkle worried she might not find people with similar interests or sessions that aligned with her academic background. However, she this worry “was quickly washed away” by the interdisciplinary nature of public health. Van Winkle recalled attending the “Innovations in Global Health Technology” session, saying it “stoked my growing passion for leveraging my background in physics and medical technology in my future career to create healthcare technology for resource-limited environments.”

“I was not expecting everyone to be so open to connecting and meeting new people,” recalls Lovelady. “Overall, the sense of community among the attendees was great.” Reflecting on the School of Public Health Alumni Reception, Stamp appreciated the “respect and spirit” that alumni hold for our school. Each student attended networking sessions and the 150th anniversary celebration. Sellers, the only public health student in the group, noted that she “gained a sense of unity within the public health workforce and felt rejuvenated and hopeful about public health upon returning home from the conference.”

4/4 Would Recommend

All four students said that they would encourage their peers to submit abstracts to APHA in the future. As Stamp puts it, “This experience is perfect for those who are determined in their mission, passionate about social impact, and desire to be active change-makers in our world!” Tips from these students for future presenters include practicing and reviewing your presentation/project, planning a schedule beforehand, taking breaks throughout the conference, and being open to connect with anyone you run into. APHA was a great benefit to these students, and we hope to support others in the future.