Community Spotlight

Class of '19 Celebrate Public Health Projects

January 17, 2017 by Jennifer Nachbur

Preventing disease and promoting and protecting the health of the community is at the heart of public health and the second-year Public Health Projects course at The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont.

Class of 2019 students discuss their public health projects at the 2017 Public Health Projects Poster Session and Community Celebration. (Photo: LCOM Creative Services)

Preventing disease and promoting and protecting the health of the community is at the heart of public health and the second-year Public Health Projects course at The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont. On Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 3:30 p.m., students in the Class of 2019 will showcase the projects they conducted with local agencies and what they learned at the annual Public Health Projects Poster Session and Community Celebration in the College’s Hoehl Gallery in the Health Science Research Facility.

Public Health Projects Course Director Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., medical students, faculty, community guests, and Larner College of Medicine leaders will be in attendance at the event, which will be followed by the 2017 MLK Health Equity Lecture at 5:30 p.m. featuring Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, and titled "We Are All Flint: The Flint Water Crisis and Public Health Advocacy." 

Facilitated through a collaboration with the United Way of Northwest Vermont, 16 groups of first-year medical students were matched to projects for area community service organizations that explored critical areas of need for their populations. Among this year’s community partners were the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Red Cross, Burlington City Arts, Burlington Lead Program, Converse Home, Committee on Temporary Shelter, Hunger Free Vermont, University of Vermont Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program, University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont CARES, the Vermont Department of Health, and Vermont Family Network. 

In fall 2016, students in the Class of 2019 conducted 16 projects, including “Vermont Health Kids’ Meals: Parents’ Perspectives,” performed in partnership with the American Heart Association, “Asthma in Vermont Dairy Farmers,” for which students partnered with the American Lung Association, and “Patient Perspectives on Medication Assisted Therapy in Vermont” with the UVM AHEC Program.

Vermont has the highest per capita buprenorphine use in the U.S. The UVM AHEC Program group aimed to gain a better understanding of patient perspectives on the barriers and enablers of successful Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) – buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction – in order to help inform system refinement. They developed an interview guide based on established tools, as well as input from program leaders, clinicians and community stakeholders, and conducted interviews with 44 patients at two specialty treatment centers in Burlington, Vt. in October 2016. The students found that half of the subjects reported a mental health condition and stated that barriers to treatment included transportation (25 percent) and stigma (41 percent), among other factors. The students advised that “a comprehensive system that addresses this wide range of domains is critical to achieving optimal outcomes”

“This year’s projects take on Vermont’s most urgent health challenges: treatment of opiate addiction; syringe exchange programs; preventing childhood lead poisoning; and helping homeless families living in shelters manage stress, says Carney. “Most of these public health issues are also national priorities, and our students’ projects contribute to broader knowledge of community engagement, advocacy, and scholarship in public health.”

The success of the program goes beyond the local region: Each year, a number of students’ Public Health Projects are accepted for presentation at the national American Public Health Association Annual Meeting.