May 3, 2012
Walking by Levering Hall on Friday, April 27, you might have been infected with the desire to stop at the 3rd Annual Undergraduate Conference in Public Health: Making Public Health Contagious. Held throughout the day, the conference brought together student, alumni and professional voices to shed light on the newest innovations in public health at Hopkins and beyond.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, currently the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, kicked off the day as the keynote speaker. Dr. Sharfstein has also previously served under President Obama as the Principal Deputy Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The conference, co-sponsored by the Public Health Student Forum and the Undergraduate Program in Public Health Studies, continued with oral presentation sessions.
Lunch was accompanied by a poster session where Hopkins students had the opportunity to share their research in an informal setting. Poster titles and research topics ranged from "Insights on How Patient Perceptions of Ambulance Systems Affect Ambulance Usage in Karachi, Pakistan" to "Analyzing the Distribution of Social Determinants of Health in Urban Clinics Throughout Baltimore City."
The latter title accompanied a study conducted by David Wang, Praneeth Sadda, Richa Pardikar and Jenny Smolen. These students are affiliated with Health Leads, a multi-city, volunteer-based organization that helps families find resources at help desks run by college students.
The study looked at the records of the Baltimore clients to see what conclusions could be drawn about the prevalence of certain resource needs such as food stamps, energy costs and educational costs, based on factors like client demographics and season.
For example, the students found that across the Baltimore clinics, the highest utility needs are during the fall when the energy applications are due, the highest child care needs are during the summer when school is not in session, and the highest employment needs are for men because they have generally taken on the family's "bread-winner" role.
Wang, a sophomore, explained that the research provides an opportunity for physicians to recognize the concerns and needs of their patients on the social level as factors for care. "A physician can prescribe a child with antibiotics, but the disease will continue to worsen if the child goes home with his mother to live in a car in the middle of December," Wang wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
"The healthcare field is changing and transforming rapidly, and the social determinants of health are coming to the forefront of health systems. It is important that students understand the severe health implications of these psychosocial needs, as these risk factors are not only the root cause of many diseases and symptoms, but they also prevent medical interventions from even working."
After lunch, there was a second session of oral presentations, one of which featured the work of senior Hollisa Rosa. In her study, "Neighborhood Disorder and Tobacco Use: Potential Determinants of Cancer Prevalence among Baltimore City Residents," Rosa examined Baltimore neighborhoods in connection with the social determinants of smoking.
"If there are lots of smokers in your neighborhood, you're more likely to pick up smoking," Rosa said.
She took a measure of neighborhood disorder using an instrument called the Neighborhood Inventory for Environmental Typology (NIfETy) and made comparisons with self-reported smoking and cancer levels. She spoke to the challenges associated with having such a small sample size, which led to some difficulty in completely isolating certain factors.
The conference also featured a workshop titled "Conducting Your Own Research" and a speech by alumna Whitney Gray, Director of Building Science Services at Medstar Institute for Innovation in Washington, D.C.
Gray is a graduate of both the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Bloomberg School of Public Health and became the first public health professional designated a LEED AP (a professional credential in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The event came to a close in the late afternoon with a mixer for the participants.
The event was outlined with an informational program detailing the guest presenters' biographies and student research abstracts. It also contained a letter from conference co-chairs Arielle Zina and Claire Rosen, and Public Health Student Forum co-presidents Bryn Carroll and Kimberley Chiu.
"We would like to both acknowledge the breadth of public health issues and encourage more individuals to recognize the importance of public health," they wrote on theme of contagiousness for the conference.