Applying undergraduate public health education to real-world problems
Public health, at its core, is a practice and service-based field focused on engaging in activities to improve population health outcomes. The goal and intent of the Texas A&M School of Public Health’s undergraduate program is that students are prepared to practice public health upon graduation. This requires moving beyond traditional classroom experiences and engaging students in addressing “real” public health issues with professionals from the field. The undergraduate capstone course, Applications of Public Health, has challenged students with high-impact learning experiences through service-learning projects with public health practice partners.
For example, students worked with the Zika Foundation, a national non-profit based in the Bryan-College Station area. During the height of concerns about Zika and its impact, students were able to produce relevant educational materials for children, community groups, pregnant women and clinics. Students explored ways to integrate their ideas into existing systems to improve long-term sustainability of these interventions.
The initial success of the service-learning aspect of the course led to an opportunity to work for the Milam County Health Department. Recognizing that children and their parents are not always familiar with public health in general and roles of local health departments in particular, the students were tasked with creating one-hour lesson plans for fourth, seventh and 11th grade students. These lesson plans do not require a teacher or presenter to have a public health background and are aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements for the public school curriculum. Milam County Health Department is distributing these lessons to other public health entities in Texas.
Another cohort of students worked with the Brazos County Health Department on assessing Hepatitis B (Hep B) reporting practices, more specifically in prenatal cases of the disease. Hep B is a notifiable condition, requiring completion of required forms within seven days of diagnosis. Students created, distributed, and analyzed a survey to describe reporting practices for local labor and delivery nurses. Using these results, students developed a “go-kit” to serve as a job aid to assist nurses in reporting Hep B cases and facilitating patients’ access to necessary resources.
“One of our major goals in curriculum redevelopment was to provide a variety of high-impact learning experiences from day one of the undergraduate program through doctoral dissertation defense,” Dean Jay Maddock, PhD, said. “These real-world experiences prepare our students to make a major contribution to the public health workforce from the first day they start their jobs.”
As one student shared in their course evaluation, “This is a great course, and I am glad that I was able to apply my knowledge in [a] hands-on way.”
“All of these experiences have placed students in situations they will encounter once they enter the workforce,” said Jennifer Griffith, DrPH, associate dean of public health practice. “Having a client with specific expectations raises the bar for students beyond a typical class project.”
At the end of the course, real products produced by students are in the hands of clients, who use them to continue to address identified public health issues. However, the real outcome of this course is students know they are prepared and how to apply what they have learned to make a lasting impact.