The power of the public health community

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There lies power in a community and for Taneil Lee, an alumna of the USF College of Public Health who earned her BSPH in May of 2019, the call to help another presented itself virtually.  

After posting a discussion in the USF COPH’s alumni Facebook page on racism as a public issue, she became connected to, Dr. Erika Arteaga, a COPH alumna who earned her MPH in 2007. Arteaga found Lee’s discussion compelling enough to extend an invitation to present to her second year medical students at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, where’s she currently an instructor.

“My class on public health here in Ecuador addresses the social determinants of health and it was a pleasure to have Taneil, a very outspoken and solvent woman, in our class,” Arteaga said. “[Sharing] what is happening in the U.S. helps to also frame the issue of racism in Ecuador, for med school second-year students. Taneil helped us to see what is really happening there, replied to questions and effectively demonstrated the link between health and race for my students.”

Dr. Erika Arteaga introducing Taneil Lee to the class. (Photo courtesy of Arteaga)

Lee said she presented a virtual presentation to students focused on racism in the medical industry and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I covered the Tuskegee case, how racism impacts health, medical racism, and resources to get involved and learn more about the BLM movement,” Lee said. “I think it is important to educate health care students, especially those who are not of color or black, about racism in the medical field. It is with education that they can see the change that is needed and become the change.”

Still of the slides Taneil Lee presented via Zoom to second year medical schools in Ecuador on the topic of racism as a public health issue. (Photo courtesy of Arteaga)

“This meant so much to me as a black woman to really share my knowledge, especially on a topic that I am passionate about. The students asked great questions and engaged well with the presentation. I hope they will share the knowledge with those around them and be great advocates for their patients when the time comes,” Lee said.

USF COPH alumna Taneil Lee. (Photo courtesy of Taneil Lee)

Lee, who has been volunteering for Meals on Wheels, Jasmine Hospice and Girl Power Cayman in the Cayman Islands where she’s originally from, has plans to start a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 in England. She’s also been an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I am quite active on my social media. I am constantly sharing links, petitions to sign and donating. But I think the biggest thing I am doing is educating, whether this is those around me, or a stranger on social media,” she said.

For USF alumna Elizabeth Melachrinoudis, the power of community came to fruition during the COPH’s 2019 Give Life Day, held Sept. 10.

USF alumna Elizabeth Melachrinoudis (far right) at the 2019 Give Life Day event held at the USF COPH. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

The Give Life Day and Wellness Fair takes place annually in the COPH lobby during National Public Health Week. The goal of the event is for COPHers to be able to make a difference in someone’s life through actions such as donating blood with OneBlood or registering with the National Marrow Donor Program and Donate Life Florida. They also learn ways to take care of their own physical health through getting their BMI and blood pressure examined, discovering the importance of colon cancer screening, researching health insurance options, trying alternatives to help alleviate stress, and figuring out how to engage in a proper nutritious diet.

Melachrinoudis, a USF alumna who earned a double major in criminology and sociology in May 2020, said she began working as a campus ambassador for the Gift of Life in the summer of 2019 and continued until she graduated.

She was invited to Give Life Day by COPH’s Ellen Kent, coordinator of the USF Health Service Corps and Sunshine ERC.

“Marrow donation is a second chance at life for our searching patients so we felt that our table would fit well during a Give Life Day,” she said. “The drive was one of our most successful with almost forty new donors being registered that day.”

USF COPH students signing up to be bone marrow donors with the assistance of Elizabeth Melachrinoudis (in blue) at the USF COPH’s 2019 Give Life Day event. (Photo by Ellen Kent)

As a result of their tabling event at the COPH’s Give Life Day, they were able to recruit a donor who matched with a 68-year-old woman battling leukemia.

“I am pretty sure all of Tampa Bay heard me screen when I got the [news],” Melachrinoudis said. “After nearly a year of working with the Gift of Life as a campus ambassador, I found my first match! It is days like this that make all the long days at drives worth it.”

Melachrinoudis said those looking to get involved can reach out to the campus ambassadors at usfgiftoflife@gmail.com or by following them on Instagram @giftoflifeusf.

“We are always willing to come speak at an organization or table at an event where new donors may be interested in registering,” she said. “We are always looking for new potential marrow donors ages 18-35.”

Anyone interested in registering can ‘Get Swabbed’ by going to https://www.giftoflife.org/dc/russells7.

In partnership with the USF Health Service Corps, The Icla da Silva Foundation, Inc., a recruitment center for the Be the Match Registry, will be offering virtual information/orientation sessions for USF Health students during USF’s 2020 fall semesters. Students may sign up via this Google Doc for the Be the Match Virtual Orientation/Information Session. Dates offered include Aug. 12, Sept. 17, Oct. 15, and Nov. 5. Additionally, student leaders and faculty may contact Ellen Kent at ekent@usf.edu  for additional assistance or to request additional sessions to meet their specific needs.        

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health