Putting passion into practice: Students live and learn health advocacy

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Students this semester have two new opportunities to immerse themselves in health advocacy.

Dr. Anna Armstrong, a USF College of Public Health alumna and assistant professor of community and family health, is teaching the undergraduate course Introduction to Health Advocacy.

Although this is the second time the course is being offered, it is the first time students will team up with M-Power, a program at Moffitt Cancer Center that raises awareness about cancer prevention and early detection. Students will also be working with Moffitt’s Adolescent and Young Adult program. All in all, students will devote 15 hours to service learning.

“Students, especially undergraduates, do well and understand the material better when they can apply it to something real,” Armstrong  said.

As part of their coursework, students will tour Moffitt, take part in mock workshops and develop a “journey map” for patients newly diagnosed with cancer, highlighting things like where to go for the highest-quality care, social support or financial help. They’ll also help young cancer patients advocate for things like insurance coverage for fertility preservation.

“This is a class where I learn, students learn, patients learn and we all grow,” Armstrong commented. “In public health, quality of life is one of our goals, and, as such, we have a responsibility to be involved in advocacy efforts to support that goal.”

Students in Introduction to Health Advocacy take notes during workshop presented by Moffitt Cancer Center. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

Another great way for students—both graduates and undergraduates—to get involved with advocacy is with the new COPH Activist Lab, the brainchild of Dr. Karen Liller, a professor of health education and community and family health.

The overall mission of the lab is to serve as the hub of excellence in providing interdisciplinary advocacy, education, research and service opportunities for students to develop skills that will promote their success as effective public health advocates and leaders.

“The Activist Lab is not about carrying signs at rallies,” Liller noted. “It is an educational lab where students will learn how to do advocacy right. We will focus on two major public health projects a year, and while those are still in development, it seems as though the students are leaning toward gun safety and human trafficking. This will be a great opportunity for students to not only learn about advocacy, but to be a part of it.”

As of now, about 20-30 students have shown interest in the Activist Lab. But emails come in every day. And Liller hopes the numbers will grow once the organization starts sponsoring events.

In the upcoming weeks the Activist Lab will host guest-speaker seminars (the first will focus on Tampa’s guardian ad litem program), a journal club and boot camps on advocacy and leadership. “There will also be podcasts, a legislative watch website and a publication that we have tentatively titled The Voice,” Liller said.

“What I hope with the Lab is that we create leaders who receive the hands-on training opportunities they need to become effective advocates for all kinds of issues,” Liller explained. “I hope the skills they learn here will be with them for a lifetime.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health

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