Oct. 30 2018

Student Research on Display

Each fall, students get a chance to summarize and reflect on their summer practicum experiences for faculty and peers. This year’s poster session in the Department of Population and Family Health highlighted a variety of local and international research projects on health issues such as mental health, migration, and HIV prevention.

“For some students, the practicum confirms an already identified interest or specialty within the field; for others, it provides exposure to a new area of public health,” says Linda Cushman, associate dean and director of the Office of Field Practice. “Additionally, it often provides important lessons in professionalism, teamwork, and cultural humility while also providing a useful 'deliverable' or product to the field practice site.”

Layla Taha, a student in the Health Policy and Practice certificate track, worked at the Red Cross Refugee Center in Almería, Spain, where she designed, administered, and analyzed a mental health survey. She discovered that the longer a refugee lived in Spain, the more likely they were to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. The project also gave her an up-close understanding of the lives of refugees.

“My practicum experience showed me how personal public health work actually is, and that those of us working in the humanitarian field must be willing to understand the populations we are serving,” said Taha. “When we consider population health we often think about improving the health outcomes of large groups of people, but we tend to lose sight of the individual. The stories of each refugee I met shaped how I understood, approached, and designed my research.”

Rachel Passmore, who is in the Sexuality, Sexual and Reproductive Health certificate, worked alongside Professors Melanie Gold and Samantha Garbers and alumna Melissa Dunn (MPH ‘17) to examine the health goals of low-income adolescent patients at School Based Health Centers (SBHC) across Manhattan and the Bronx. They found that the young people most wanted improved sleep, and were interested in integrative therapies like mindfulness and acupressure that could help them cope with stress.  Passmore says her practicum taught her the value of evidence-based research in public health and allowed her to apply classroom skills such as quantitative analysis to a “real-world” setting. “It really made me utilize problem-solving skills in a way that I never had before and I now feel confident in my ability to perform and successfully navigate research processes and analyses.”

Fueled by an interest in mental health, David Kalinoski traveled to Uganda to study how women in areas at high-risk for HIV discuss counseling. “Mental health is something that is not considered strongly enough in the public health framework, and I believe these concepts should not be divorced from one another,” said Kalinoski, who is pursuing dual MPH and MSW degrees. The results from analyzing transcripts of interviews with 48 women with and without HIV showed that counseling was discussed favorably, particularly within the HIV+ community, and suggested that it should be applied more consistently throughout the region.

Kalinoski cites the support he received from his mentors in the department, particularly from Professor John Santelli and the rest of the Uganda team, as one of the reasons he felt confident in taking on the project. “The experience itself was more than I could have asked for,” Kalinoski said. “Uganda is a place I wish everyone could visit, particularly the Rakai district, to see all of the innovative work being done around sexual health. Ugandans who I now call friends and stay in touch with are some of the friendliest, most polite and dedicated people you will run into.”