Guest post: Nicole Steffens on AMCHP

First year MCH student Nicole Steffens tells us about her experience at AMCHP this year:

Adolescent health and public health frameworks, such as the life course model, framed the majority of my experience at AMCHP this year. On Saturday, the Preconception Health Symposium covered various states’ strategies of introducing a preconception framework into state health plans. I was humbled and excited to see that Ohio included teen disability issues into their preconception care discussion. This range allowed a more culturally competent discussion to occur when we broke off into mini-groups. My table discussed issues related to the name and definition of “Preconception Health.” What are the differences between adolescent, sexual, reproductive, and preconception health? By targeting just preconception health, are we disregarding anyone who does not want to have children, or people who cannot have children? Are LGBTQ communities included within these frameworks? The mix of gender, ability, sexual orientation, race, and SES issues all influence how this concept should and can be defined. Although this is an important area of health that should be further explored, after critically analyzing the topic, my group acknowledged that language surrounding the framework should be changed in order to best reach the adolescent and young adult population. Teens will not respond to programs that target their future wellbeing of their children, especially if language focuses on the word “conception.”

Dr. Frisby from the Missouri School of Journalism gave a lecture on how we can target preconception health to adolescents through media campaigns. The idea of language was reiterated as well as the importance of framing the concept in a way teens can relate to. I greatly appreciated her talk because I had never explored the role advertisements have in improving health outcomes. For example, South Carolina’s created a preconception framework using terminology that resonates with the young adult audience. Television, Facebook or internet ads can be extremely successful, if campaigns can connect to their audience. Dr. Frisby mentioned the idea of using focus groups, surveys, or observation to accomplish this as well, an evidence-based needs assessment method.

On Monday, Dr. Blum from Johns Hopkins described research around interventions of connectedness for adolescents. Effective programs work to strengthen adult-teen relationships, offer belonging, provide structure and safety, and link adolescents to communities. Dr. Blum made a statement that resonated with me and how I would like to intervene with teens in the future: “Programs are important, but it is not the program that changes people’s lives. It is the mentor the boy or girl had a connection to that influenced their wellbeing.” Each of these interconnected issues guided my experience with AMCHP and how to best work with this age cohort.

Outside of the educational sessions at AMCHP, I learned about how states were applying their Title V funds as well as the life course model to programs. I had the opportunity to discuss with MCH professionals about their work around the country; networking helped me understand the differing experiences states have with funding and social acceptance that I would normally not have exposure to. The conference was more beneficial for my professional development than any opportunities I have had yet in my MPH career. Through individual direct contact with AMCHP staff and professionals around the country, I hope to continue this journey and learn from more about MCH programs and opportunities around the United States.