Monica Ponder

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1. Can you provide a brief overview of community engagement in public health? For example, the state of the industry, trends, etc.

In terms of the biggest place that community engagement has made an impact in public health is community-clinical linkages. Keeping people engaged with their health care team, organizations and public health agencies to allow further access.
Some individuals see their pharmacists weekly and they are becoming an easier touch point for people managing chronic illness. Another example of community-clinical linkages is engaging nurses or social workers for patients with behavioral and mental health diagnoses. Poor health behavioral outcomes may be more chronic and less urgent, but require routine communications with someone on the health care team (nutritionists).

Engaging more community partners into the disease, like nurses and pharmacists and looking at zip codes and interpersonal touch points along with health care touch points can help reduce instances of disease over time.

2. What careers are available to MPH graduates interested in community health advocacy and/or health communications?

Communications within public health is any interaction with a person, individual or system for the achievement of public health goals. Some careers available to those interested in health communications, include:

  • Public information officer
  • CDC largest employer of public health
  • Everything requires communications for website (writers) and I think I even saw a job announcement one time for psychologists in public health understanding behavior and sociology people who understand systems. Policy and partner engagement…a host of fields that someone could pursue a career in and have a public health.

3. Which parts of the UNR curriculum are especially relevant for students interested in communication advocacy?

The CHS 701 Social and Behavioral Dimensions of Health component has a lot of communications underpinnings. There are also capstone courses that people can take and apply to communications.

Communications in public health is mostly understanding who is affected and what’s the problem and then understanding how they interact and view the world and what barriers they have. There are many ways to apply the current curriculum to community engagement and health work.

4. What traits or skills are important for a community health advocate? How does the UNR MPH program help improve those skills?

  • The most important skill is understanding the health care system and public health, particularly epidemiology and understanding the issues that affect the population. You should have a basic understanding about the dynamics of the community/neighborhood.
  • Understanding audiences and that includes communications and behavioral theory how people move, think, respond and make the decisions they do. You can engage on an interpersonal level, policy makers, mass media and social level. What will resonate in what medium.

Example: Heart disease and stroke numbers in the U.S. (#1 and #4 killers)

African american men and particularly those over 40 have the highest incidence of heart attack and strokes in the south. Blood pressure, diet, obesity don’t get a lot of attention or funding when it comes to congressional allocations for public health (usually the focus is on infectious diseases – Ebola, Zika, HIV).

I was able to get private funding to talk with black men of a certain age who had high blood pressure and ask about why they weren’t controlling their health issues. Designing the focus group and making sure it is theoretically based and meet the objectives. Many of them have issues with being diagnosed, medications affected their sexual ability, culture plays a part with food the family cooks that have been traditions for family and black men don’t speak with each other.

The campaign that was designed was “healthy is strong” and it is visuals of black men with their families and doing health things. The purpose saying it’s okay to live a healthy lifestyle. Community engagement is an important step. Talking with those that are highest affected by disease and understanding the problems they face to engage the population.

5.What advice would you provide to an MPH student interested in furthering their career in public health advocacy?

Really understand the field of public health first as it is complex and broad and there are many places to plug in and opportunities to find a career in public health. Understand the difference between the medical system and public health system and how they intersect.

Figure out what they want to do and what level of public health peaks their interest. Several of my students are nurses or EMPs. They way they look at the world and health issues with urgency even if they are not at the top of everyone’s radar. People have neglected their health for so long that it becomes an urgent issue.

Everyone can have a place in public health but they just need to find the place where they fit.

6. Are there any major public health issues you feel need more attention today? If so, what are some steps possible to either improve public health in this area or raise awareness?

All of them! Chronic disease management and health insurance access, patient provider education. The conversations that are around food deserts (places with limited access to affordable and nutritious food). They get less of the spotlight nationally but the morbidity and mortality related to those issues is a crisis in the country. Mental health, of course, as well.

Community-clinical linkages and pushing public health to neighborhoods and making sure people are close to their health environments are some of the major public health issues that need attention today. Hospitals should be accessible in every neighborhood; every neighborhood should have a hospital, access to a health department and pharmacist and food deserts that issues are resolved (access to healthy foods and vegetables) will make a huge difference in chronic disease outcomes in this country.