#UMNMCH student Chinenyenwa Elile, (she/her), MPH 2024, wrote this reflection on how her Maternal and Child Health (MCH) coursework, student worker positions, and passion for equity work in child and youth populations have all contributed to her career in Maternal and Child Health.
Path to the UMN MPH in MCH Program
When choosing a Master of Public Health program, I was particularly drawn to the UMN’s strong commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). When I first started my MCH program, I struggled with having an area of concentration in MCH; all I knew was my passion for working with the child and youth population. Over time, as I took MCH courses and did my internships, I found my niche: health equity work among children and youths from marginalized communities. As a result, I have been learning a lot about DEI in my MCH classes. One major advantage of studying at UMN is having a faculty advisor designated to each student. I was fortunate to have Dr. Drissa Toure as an advisor who is very passionate about teaching and building strong relationships among students. Dr. Toure will go the extra mile to provide consistent guidance and mentorship, which has been pivotal to my professional and personal development.
Community Engagement Works
During my first year in the MCH program at UMN, I was an executive board member for the Maternal and Child Health Interest Group (MCHIG) – a student-led organization. MCHIG is responsible for leading and coordinating various virtual events and activities for UMN students that promote equity in MCH. One of my main roles on the executive board was to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of MCHIG’s community events. I was also part of the planning committee for MCH webinars, including co-facilitating the World Children’s Day webinar event. The experiences I gained helped me successfully moderate the American Public Health Association’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Expo: Social Determinants of Health Oral Session III.
In 2021, I began my deployment through the Center as a community health assessment intern at Hennepin County Public Health (HCPH). HCPH is a government organization that provides a wide range of services and programs for the residents of Hennepin County. For example, the Baby Tracks program provides immunization to children aged 0-2 years to ensure that babies stay on track with their immunization schedules and attend child well visits. Another example would be the ImmuLink program that supports the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC) program to ensure that Minnesota residents receive timely immunizations and that records are kept safe and confidential.
I completed my applied practice experience (APEx) with the Baby Track and ImmuLink program. I collaborated with focal persons in the monitoring, evaluation, and the communication department to support maternal, newborn, and child health projects related to childhood immunization services and community engagements, especially among refugees and immigrant populations. While working under the supervision of Marie Maslowski, I participated in evaluating the effectiveness and impact of the childhood immunization program. I conducted online research and synthesized existing data from various credible published literature that investigated the drivers of parental vaccine hesitancy and the evidence-based interventional strategies and programs to address the issue. I also conducted informational interviews with stakeholders who are experts in the subject to understand what lessons are to be learned.
I presented a virtual PowerPoint presentation to Community Health Workers (CHWs) and MCH staff on drivers of parental vaccine hesitancy and strategies to address the problem. The adapted WHO Public health Model approach below was taken from the PowerPoint presentation that I presented to the staff, which emphasizes the importance that leadership and management must keep evolving and improving, which requires learning, unlearning, and relearning. We need to be careful not to make childhood immunization political. However, there is also a need to constantly assess the needs and concerns of the marginalized population, evaluate our interventional approaches using a health equity lens to know what is working and not working, and develop new culturally sensitive strategies, policies, and programs.
As a final product of my APEx, I developed key communication messages for social media and community outreach campaigns using existing toolkits like motivational interviewing tools to develop/design the content fact sheets for Community Health Workers (CHWs), emphasizing the importance of childhood immunizations and their role in addressing parental vaccine hesitancy. These social media messages were proposed for use during National Infant Immunization Week.
I have learned from my MCH courses and community engagement work that communities need to be empowered and involved earlier in the planning and decision-making process when designing an intervention program. Their voices ought to be heard before starting and after completing every project. Being culturally sensitive and actively involving the communities when developing and implementing programs is vital to promoting health equity and sustaining these programs.
Chinenyenwa Elile is a second-year graduate student in the MPH-Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program at the University of Minnesota (UMN). She is a former executive board member of the MCH Interest Group and most recently completed her applied practice experience at Hennepin County Public Health (HCPH). Additionally, Chinenyenwa is a trained physician. She received her bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery (MBBS) and her Post-Graduate Diploma in Community and General Pediatrics in Africa. Currently, she serves as a public health project coordinator with AMERICORPS at a public health county in Minnesota to work on an opioid settlement project. She loves volunteering, traveling, and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. As someone who grew up in a country with tropical seasons all year round, Chinenyenwa is always fascinated by the fall of the snow in Minnesota and enjoys taking pictures with the snow background. While studying in the Twin Cities, she has met wonderful people with a shared interest, and gradually, Minnesota is beginning to feel like home to her. After Chinenyenwa graduates, she will want to continue her work as a child health advocate. She has a vision of promoting and improving the health and well-being of the communities through family and community engagement, leadership, and education, using evidence-based medicine, policies, laws, and advocacy programs to advance disease prevention and health equity in public health practice. Chinenyenwa believes that her past years of educational training and work experiences, including her current MCH program, have adequately prepared her for her chosen field.