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Educating tomorrow’s health care workforce

By GLENN WALDRON

Published August 30, 2017

“Public health is such a wonderful career and I don’t think most youth really understand how public health works and what the opportunities are.”
Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean
School of Public Health and Health Professions

The School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP), along with the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center (ENAHEC), recently hosted a free summer camp for local high school students to learn more about public health and to explore both college and career choices in public health and health professions.

The weeklong camp, which took place Aug. 14-18, offered students the opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics through hands-on experiences.

“We really designed the camp to be an opportunity for learning, but more importantly, we wanted the camp to provide various hands-on experiences,” says Robert Furlani, assistant director of MPH training at SPHHP and one of the event’s organizers. “Above all else, we wanted the camp to be fun. We had the students participate in a number of hands-on activities throughout the week, which provided for a unique learning experience and introduced them to public health issues that they encounter in their communities and their lives on an everyday basis.”

Some of those hands-on activities included conducting mock lead remediation procedures while wearing Tyvek suits, using black lights to learn about the transmission of germs and proper handwashing techniques, measuring air quality with air monitors, conducting building-accessibility screenings while using wheelchairs, practicing physical therapy rehabilitation exercises, and participating in concussion-assessment testing procedures in UB’s Concussion Management Clinic.

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While students learned more about public health and health professions through these hands-on activities, the opportunity for attendees to understand the complexity of public health and create a well-informed and diverse health care workforce moving forward also was a main goal of the camp.

This is where the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center (ENAHEC) came into play.

A federally and state-funded initiative, ENAHEC focuses on increasing diversity by recruiting and training people of all races and ethnicities for careers in health care.

“Individuals in high-need areas can potentially have better health outcomes if they are treated by health care providers who look like them and are familiar with the communities they are from,” says Danise Wilson, executive director of ENAHEC, one of nine AHECs in the New York AHEC system. “It is imperative that the community-based agencies such as ENAHEC and higher education institutions such as the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions continue to feed and invest in the public health pipeline to produce the best workforce for the future.”

Mitigating the diversity gap in the public health workforce is especially relevant and important here in Buffalo, Wilson notes.

“Many areas in our backyard — area codes 14214, 14215, for example — are consistently ranked as having some of the highest chronic health disparities in the nation. We should not ignore, but focus on the students who reside in these neighborhoods,” she says. “These young people have a high level of commitment and understanding of their communities. They are the future providers who will potentially study at the University at Buffalo and will ultimately impact the health workforce.”

Ultimately, camp organizers hope participants will view public health as a viable career option and take what they’ve learned to implement change in their local communities.

“Public health is such a wonderful career and I don’t think most youth really understand how public health works and what the opportunities are,” says Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of the SPHHP. “We really aim at trying to expose youth in our communities to possibilities for careers in both public health and health professions, and partnering with our local school districts and our local AHEC to host this summer camp is a great opportunity to do just that.”