Tomorrow’s Public Health Leaders

At the end of this month, the 2015 Paul Ambrose Scholars will converge on Washington, D.C., for a three-day symposium. The 40 students represent seven different health professions and institutions from across the country. Five of this year’s participants are PA students.

The Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) sponsors the program, which began in 2002 and honors Paul Ambrose, MD, MPH, who was onboard the American Airlines flight 77 that was hijacked on 9/11.

The program helps teach leadership and organizational skills as they relate to prevention and population health. To date, there have been more than 500 scholars from some 160 institutions. For students interested in a public health career, it’s a fantastic opportunity.

“When I was looking into the program, it really clicked with me as far my own professional goals and wanting to learn more about public health programming,” said Jenny Le, a 2015 scholar and first-year PA student at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

To apply, candidates must propose a project that ties in with the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicator topics. During the symposium, students fully develop their projects and then, upon returning home, put their plans into action with the help of mini-grants.

Many of the scholars are already highly involved in their communities through numerous outreach initiatives and volunteer opportunities, but they want to take those efforts to the next level.

“Thus far, my plans to make an impact on the Philadelphia community have been theoretical,” said second-year student Samantha Melonas of Thomas Jefferson University. “I am approaching the point in my professional development where I want to learn more about the technical details of designing and implementing a community-based project.”

Melonas’ project will work to improve vaccination compliance among children 19-35 months old in her community.

Mia Malin, a second-year PA student at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, wants to better understand practicalities of putting a plan into action. “I’m hoping to learn strategies and skills to complete a project from start to finish that is sustainable and can make a real impact within a community,” said Malin. Her project will aim to improve health literacy among men at a homeless shelter with which her university already has a relationship.

Stephanie Dyck, a first-year PA student at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, intends to use her previous experience as a dietician for a six-week diabetes education pilot program to serve nearby, underserved populations. “I am hoping to gain confidence in my ability to work with underserved patients and create a stronger background on public health issues that particularly affect these patient populations,” she said.

The other health professions represented within the program are allopathic medicine, dentistry, graduate nursing, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy/occupational therapy, and public health.

Mark Volpe, a second-year PA student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, plans to develop a mindfulness-based stress reduction workshop for other PA students. He decided to apply to the Paul Ambrose program because of his interest in interprofessional health care education.

“I think it is important to learn to work as a team with other health care workers, Volpe said. “I am hoping to gain a greater understanding of what other professionals bring to the table as far as expertise and skills.”

Shontelle Berfet, a 2014 scholar and recent graduate from Seton Hall University’s PA program in South Orange, New Jersey, said developing that understanding goes both ways. “We can share our role in medicine with many who are still not too familiar with what [PAs] do or represent.”

The speaker line-up for the 2015 symposium is impressive, and includes former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, Woodie Kessel, MD, MPH, and Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, from the Food and Drug Administration.

Katy Hamlin, MPH, the APTR program coordinator, attributes the program’s popularity — there were 72 candidates this year — to a growing interest in gaining leadership experience and skills prior to entering the workforce. “It also allows students to make meaningful contributions to their local communities,” she said.

Joan Swanson, a 2014 Paul Ambrose Scholar and second-year student at Emory University in Atlanta, said participating in the program was a unique opportunity to receive public health training that complemented her PA education.

“My experience as a Paul Ambrose Scholar has strengthened my resolve to become a provider who practices population health improvement through lifestyle medicine,” she said. “I would recommend the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program to all health professions students who are interested in affecting change in their communities through preventive medicine and public health.”