Guest post: reflections on AMCHP from MCH student Annie Fedorowicz

I have been told many times by people working outside the field of public health that my MPH degree in maternal and child health will only be useful as a supplemental degree for my future career. Explaining that I wish to be a public health practitioner is too abstract for people to grasp:

“Public health, so you want to be a doctor or a nurse?”
“No, I do not want to be involved in delivery direct medical services.”
“Oh, so you will be a social worker like your mom, then?”
“Not exactly, I want to work specifically with organizations that create and promote evidence-based health interventions, implemented at a population level to ultimately improve the health of underserved communities.”

And that is about where I lose them. So what exactly sets a public health practitioner apart from other social services and medical professionals? I know there is a lot of interdisciplinary overlap, as well as uniquely different theoretical approaches across disciplines. However, rarely have I heard someone specifically introduced as a MCH public health practitioner. So where do MCH students end up after receiving their MPH degree?

The AMCHP 2011 conference answered this seemingly trivial question. A diverse group of professionals that have dedicated their careers to augmenting the health of women and their families truly exists. Many conference attendees did hold other degrees and were actively practicing in the healthcare and social work fields, but many identified themselves as working specifically within the field of MCH. From policy to research, to community-based non-profits and government health agencies, I was inundated with a vast array of exciting careers within the MCH field.

Health communication with the integration of the Life Course Theory was a primary theme of AMCHP this year. Through a common MCH language, such as Life Course Theory, as well as knowledge of key theoretical public health concepts, this diverse group of professionals was able to effectively communicate key public health concerns for MCH populations. Through simply being exposed to the wealth of MCH expertise, I became more confident in communicating and understanding my future career as an MCH practitioner. While being trained for a professional career establishes an understanding of key infrastructures and theories that inform the public health field, exposure to professionals working in the field translates MCH theory into practice.

Andy Goodman, a Communications Consultant at The Goodman Center, was a presenter that discussed the importance of infusing storytelling to effectively communicate public health programs. While it is important for public health organizations to communicate the mission, goals and objectives of their programs, all too often complex programmatic language does not effectively market programs to stakeholders and target populations. Thus, the power of using narrative to support the mission and goals of an organization will have a lasting impact on stakeholders and decision makers that invest and participate in the program.

Andy Goodman suggested that every public health organization should collect a series of stories that:
1. Examine the nature of the public health challenge that the organization addresses
2. Explains the creation of the organization
3. Highlight emblematic success stories of the organization working with the community
4. Highlight the unique skills and performance qualities of the staff
5. Address organizational pitfalls (for internal use with the staff)
6. Identify the future goals and aspirations of the organization

These collected stories (except for #5) should be made available to the public and key stakeholders as examples that legitimize the need for the organizations within the community, as well as highlight the successes and community support for the program.

This presentation reinforced the importance of translating public health policies, research and best-practice models into a common language that evokes a powerful sense of human empathy. In truth, it is stories from communities that are basis of identifying health concerns that become the focus of public health research and program design. When asked “What is a MCH public health professionals?”, I will remember the diverse group of professionals I met and listened to at AMCHP 2011. And well I may not remember every minute detail of their research or their organization’s programmatic work plan, I will remember their stories. They were stories of MCH professionals’ career paths, of obstacles their organization’s faced in light of funding shortages and health-negating policies, and most importantly, they were stories of the women and families that their programs served everyday.

Annie Fedorowitz is an MPH graduate student in Maternal and Child Health at the University of Minnesota.  She expects to complete her degree in May 2012.