Date of Defense:
April 28, 2017
“In 2014, youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 22% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States. Young black/African-American and Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual males are especially affected” (HIV Among Youth, 2016). The quality of sexual health education can vary from state to state and “is insufficient in many areas according to the CDC’s 2014 School Health Profiles,” leaving many youth with their questions unanswered, at a higher risk of contracting infection and unable to recognize their own symptoms (HIV Among Youth, 2016).
This field experience was organized in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Business and Economic Development Community Health Initiative which focuses on eliminating health disparities in vulnerable communities. I worked alongside Neighborhood House’s Health Access team to facilitate sexual health programs to two target populations. The Comadres y Compadres program was implemented by a Spanish-speaking community health educator and focused on teaching Latino adults sexual risk reduction, how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and provided a safe space to discuss sexuality and culture in their native language. The “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” program was a CDC Best Evidence Intervention and had an established sexual health/risk reduction curriculum. This program was implemented by an African American community health educator and targeted African American and Latino teens. Additionally, I also completed agency-sponsored cultural competency trainings, attended local sexual health conferences, conducted outreach at local health fairs to recruit new program participants and assisted the agency’s program evaluation team with program survey results.
My field experience was completed at Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota. Neighborhood House is a multiservice agency that helps people with basic needs, meeting their educational goals, offers multiple youth programs, and works to eliminate health disparities and promote health through culturally-specific health education programs. “For more than a century, Neighborhood House has supported families in times of transition or need from more than 50 cultural and ethnic populations, drawing people from diverse communities in St. Paul and beyond” (About Neighborhood House, n.d.). All their programs are provided free of charge to participants.
Before my work at Neighborhood House, I had no experience working with or facilitating programs for teenagers and wanted to build my confidence with this population. By spending more time with the participants of the “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” program I was able to watch the community health educator teach each lesson, see how she answered questions, kept everyone on task and did condom demonstrations. I was then given the opportunity to facilitate parts of the lesson each week and conducted the entire program twice when she was absent. I was also unfamiliar with many of the ethnic groups in the Twin Cities and learned valuable information about Hmong, Somali, Oromo and Latino cultures in Neighborhood House’s cultural competency trainings. Throughout my entire graduate school career, I have focused on health disparities among minority populations. This field experience put a human perspective on the data.
I would recommend the University of Minnesota Business and Economic Development Community Health Initiative to public health graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds. The internship is both full time and paid and I don’t think many students are aware that this opportunity is available to them. Neighborhood House was an excellent agency to work with, but because they focus on many different issues in addition to health and wellness, a field experience may be challenging to students who want to focus on a more specialized part of public health. The CDC Best Evidence Intervention “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” had dated videos and primarily focused on heterosexual relationships but was otherwise well-received by program participants. Neighborhood House should continue this program but would have to recruit more teenagers to keep it going because many of their teens have already completed it successfully.
Through my field experience I provided accurate and culturally competent sexual health education to African-American and Latino youth, developed my facilitation skills and worked with populations I was previously unfamiliar with. These new skills have proven invaluable on my journey to becoming a public health professional.