Thanks for helping students put their passion into practice

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Public Health Thank You Day is November 20th.

The USF College of Public Health, in partnership with the American Public Health Association, Research!America and leading public health organizations, is celebrating public health professionals who work tirelessly every day to protect the health of all people and all communities.

Public Health Thank You Day is the Monday before Thanksgiving. In observance of the occasion, the COPH is highlighting individuals who share their time and knowledge with current students via mentorship, internship and other career development vehicles.

Here are a few ways COPH alumni and other public health professionals are preparing the next generation to protect and improve the health of others.

In the fall 2016 semester, the Department of Health Policy and Management officially launched their Alumni Mentor Program.

The program matches current second year students with experienced HPM alumni to participate in a mentoring relationship and provide student mentees the opportunity to build their career network while learning from the experiences of more seasoned professionals.

“When I arrived to the department, I saw that we collected alumni data but we didn’t use it in a meaningful way.  With so many opportunities for us to tap into our alumni network, for the benefit of our students, I proposed launching an Alumni Mentor Program which the department readily welcomed,” said Sara Spear, academic services administrator for HPM.

This fall there are 17 pairs of mentors and mentees, with several of the alumni being returning mentors.

Matching the students and alumni is based on a variety of criteria such as, career aspirations, years of experience, what they hope to get out of the program, personal hobbies/interests, and preferred modes of communications.

Students find the program useful, as evidenced by their feedback.

“My mentor has been great! She has always been there to talk with me, provide guidance, and help me network with other people affiliated with USF. I can’t say enough good things about her and how beneficial the program has been for me so far.” – Current student

“Some of the activities that we have done that may be helpful for others were reading over her cover letters and resumes for which I provided her feedback and edits. She also had a couple of Skype interviews scheduled so we did a mock interview to help her prepare.” –Alumnus

“We have monthly phone meetings that last around an hour. We discuss any professional progress made by me, potential opportunities for me to apply for based on my interests. He shares his own experiences and potential opportunities for me within his company. He also discusses which skills and subject material is imperative.” – Current student

Alumni mentor Carol Ann A’Hearn with MHA/MPH student Sabrina Wise (Photo courtesy of Sara Spear).

Alumni mentor Carol Ann A’Hearn with MHA/MPH student Sabrina Wise (Photo courtesy of Sara Spear).

“We want to instill in our students that throughout their career, they will need advice and support from others in the field who have gone before them,” said Dr. Sandra Potthoff, professor and chair of HPM. “Alumni are enthusiastic about helping the next generation of healthcare and public health leaders succeed. They remember what it was like when they were students, the types of questions they had, and the uncertainties they felt. Their willingness to share their advice and wisdom with students early in their careers helps our students’ success, and instills in our students the culture of helping those who will follow them.”

In addition to mentoring, alumni serve as guest speakers in classes, judges at student case presentations, and serve on the HPM advisory board. Alumni also provide internship and fellowship opportunities within their organizations and donate to support a fund that sends HPM students to national case competitions.

“We can’t thank the alumni enough for their willingness to share their talent, their time, and their treasure with our students and faculty,” Potthoff said. “We greatly appreciate their support of all that we do!”

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Somer Burke is assistant director of experiential learning. In this role, she coordinates field experience and other practice opportunities for COPH students who must earn curriculum-required experience credits to complete their degrees.

According to Burke, COPH students dedicate more than 38,000 hours a year to gaining experience in the field. They learn under the mentorship of community partners and alumni, who represent about 15% of the preceptors.

Recently, Burke coordinated an agreement between COPH and Hillsborough County’s Department of Health Care Services. This fall, the department welcomed its inaugural cohort of seven graduate students for a practice experience.

Students participating in field experience at the Hillsborough County Department of Health Care Services. From left to right: Jana Leyrer, Taylor LaSure, Michelle Lyman, Bianca Anuforo, Janelle Barrera. Not pictured: Alexis Pullia, Thomas Agrusti (Photo courtesy of Burke).

Students participating in field experience at the Hillsborough County Department of Health Care Services. From left to right: Jana Leyrer, Taylor LaSure, Michelle Lyman, Bianca Anuforo, Janelle Barrera. Not pictured: Alexis Pullia, Thomas Agrusti (Photo courtesy of Burke).

The department provides residents living at or below 110% of the poverty level who do not qualify for other coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, access to health care through the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan.

“The Healthy Living Department Director Gene Early and his team saw a space where our talented COPH students could assist their organization while gaining invaluable experience in real-world public health practice,” Burke said. “The opportunity for students to give back to the community while completing their field experience requirement is one of the highlights of the program.”

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The COPH’s Integrated Dietetic Internship-MPH program matched its first cohort of six interns in the fall of 2017.

Students matched in the program will gain hands on experience in dietetics practice through the internship, which has been granted candidacy status for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Our graduates are not only going to be graduating prepared to be entry level registered dietitian nutritionists, they are going to have that core MPH foundation as well,” said Dr. Theresa Crocker director of the program and assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health. “Students will be ready to go out there and transform practice with what they have learned.”

Dr. Theresa Crocker and the inaugural Integrated Dietetic Internship-MPH program cohort (Photo by Caitlin Keough).

Dr. Theresa Crocker and the inaugural Integrated Dietetic Internship-MPH program cohort (Photo by Caitlin Keough).

According to Crocker, the concentration is geared toward dietetic interns who are on the pathway to becoming registered dietitian nutritionists.

The integrated program is 20 months long and requires a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practicum falling into three categories: clinical, community and food service.

Clinical rotation partners include Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Food service experiences will also take place at Tampa General Hospital.

However, it’s the community experience that Crocker says sets the program apart from others.

“We have a public health focus and population health frame for it,” Crocker said. “So, interns get to do a lot of unique rotations, for example they are going to be interning at Meals on Wheels, Feeding Tampa Bay, The Dairy Council, USF Health Services, Davita, James A. Haley V.A Hospital, the Florida Department of Health, and with registered dietitians who are entrepreneurs in private practice.”

One of the interns, Samantha Wholley, said nutrition and dietetics is her passion because she has seen firsthand what a positive impact teaching people how to have healthy and meaningful relationships with food can have.

“With this being a new program that USF has to offer, I hope to contribute to its success and adhere to the goals set forth for all interns and students,” Wholley said.  “I hope to make long lasting connections that can aid in facing the nutrition-related problems in my community.”

Story by Caitlin Keough and Danyelle Arnow, USF College of Public Health

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