University of Southern Indiana’s Master of Health Administration 4+1 students in Dr. Erin Reynolds’ epidemiology class have had a lot on their minds lately, including preventing adolescent injuries, immigrant health needs, and the impact of sexually transmitted diseases on local pregnant women. However, they are not just talking about these public health topics in the classroom. Instead, they are working with representatives from the Vanderburgh County Health Department to research each of these areas with the hope their projects will be implemented to collect data, create awareness, and possibly secure grant funding for solutions.
Reynolds said her class project with Dr. Ken Spear, chief medical officer, and other local health officials is one of many collaborations USI has with the Vanderburgh County Health Department. “Our students get to network and work one-on-one with professionals in the healthcare field, and they gain experience designing proposals which could be used for grants,” she said. “Plus, they learn how to work as a member of a team, which is valuable for whatever healthcare career they pursue.”
Spear feels it is a win-win situation. “As we work to achieve National Accreditation by the Public Health Accrediting Board (PHAB), these academic relationships are invaluable. Not only do we have the opportunity to teach, we also learn from these interactions,” he said. “Our hope is to be designated an Academic Health Department due to these relationships. Research and real data are necessary to approach the goal of easily accessible preventive health measures. We are fortunate to have so many students seeking to work with us.”
This is the second year Reynolds has taken her MHA 4+1 class to the Vanderburgh County Health Department. This year, her class of 10 students has been split into three groups, and each group chose a topic based on current the needs of the Vanderburgh County Health Department after hearing various presentations and taking a tour of the facility.
The students researching injury prevention will focus on the areas where most adolescents are injured: texting while driving, ATV accidents, and guns. Another group is investigating the local population of Marshall Islands immigrants and the cultural differences which are often barriers to healthcare. The third group is studying sexually transmitted diseases and the issues these diseases cause during pregnancy, such as this area’s high infant mortality rate.
“By the end of the semester, the students will present their 10-page proposals, including the logistics for collecting data, to the Vanderburgh County Health Department,” said Reynolds. “The idea is that they take their proposals a step further and actually implement a project to collect data that could be useful for securing grant funding or creating awareness of a public health issue.”