Current Master of Public Health (MPH) students were among the more than 12,000 public health professionals from around the world who attended the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. Guided by the year’s meeting theme, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health,” private-sector, government, non-profit and academic professionals convened to address current challenges, opportunities and accomplishments in public health.

In previous years, attending students have benefitted from networking with potential employers, as well as learning from practicing public health professionals. This year, the program was able to partially fund six MPH students to attend the annual meeting. The selected students were a member of the APHA Student Assembly and/or held leadership in the MPH student association, the Public Health Association at Virginia Tech. During the meeting, the students volunteered at the program’s booth in the Public Health Expo, and took advantage of visiting other expo booths, which included almost 500 schools and programs of public health, government agencies, health-related organizations, and advocacy groups.

A picture of MPH students at the APHA annual meeting and expo

Students Tessa Englund (PhD/MPH), April Gardner (DVM/MPH), Monica Goyanko (MPH), Tullia Johnson (MPH), Mariah Malachi (MPH), and Samantha Talley (DVM/MPH) reflected on their experiences at the meeting.

“I did not know what to expect from the APHA annual conference at first, as this was my first ever conference and my first time attending such a large meeting for health sciences. I knew, however, that I was hopeful to meet other MPH students with similar interests, as well as attend presentations that would provide knowledge and possibly spark new areas of interest in public health. I was also hoping to network with medical professionals and learn how I could use my MPH degree as a potential clinical practitioner.” - Tullia Johnston (MPH)

“Before the conference I had hoped to expand my current knowledge of the health needs for our growing senior population, as I intend to work with the senior population one day. By the end of the week, I had gained my desired knowledge and so much more! While attending the APHA conference I was able to learn about a variety of interesting health issues that will impact not only the senior population, but so many sectors of our population I had not considered before. I heard stories and experiences from people who came from all over the world just to share their knowledge.” - Mariah Malachi (MPH) 

“My experience at the 2017 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting was fascinating, overwhelming, and overall an invaluable experience...The fact that I was traveling to a big city for a huge meeting on important public health matters had me feeling like I was somehow significant in this large and exhilarating world of public health. The amount of talks, poster presentations, and expo tables was overwhelming in itself, which made me realize why this was an almost five-day meeting. The conference began with an opening session with the president of the association and a woman describing how climate change has impacted her culture, as an indigenous individual. I continued on throughout the days with many talks on climate change, human medicine, and various other topics. Posters sessions were continuous throughout every day, along with expo tables representing various schools, companies, and organizations that all had an interest in public health in some way.” - Samantha Talley (DVM/MPH)

“The opening general session was really exciting. It was amazing to see so many individuals there, all them committed to public health. The speeches by Congressman John Robert Lewis and APHA President Thomas Quade really drove home how important public health is today. It was heartwarming and encouraging to hear everyone cheering about the right to healthcare for everyone. I attended some really interesting sessions. My favorites were discussing mosquito control, international health, and food safety. There were so many sessions to attend and it was sometimes difficult deciding which one to go to!” - Monica Goyanko (MPH) 

“Yes! One Health has always been important to me, coming from the perspective of a (one day) veterinarian.  It was comforting to meet and hear from people at the APHA who value the importance of approaching some of the world’s most complex health issues from a One Health standpoint.” - April Gardner (DVM/MPH)

“Yes, it definitely pulled together all the different facets of public health. I could easily see how research or work in one realm of One Health was intertwined with the others.” - Monica Goyanko (MPH) 

“Our MPH program has really prepared me to think in the One Health framework. Many session topics sounded familiar and I had some working knowledge to build upon.” - Monica Goyanko (MPH)

“I have only taken a handful of classes so far, but my introductory classes in the MPH program helped lay the groundwork of understanding for topics discussed and debated at APHA.” - April Gardner (DVM/MPH) 

“The financial assistance allowed this experience to be less stressful for me as I did not have to pay many out-of-pocket costs. I also very much appreciated the experience riding down with the group! It is much more enjoyable and less stressful to travel with a group.” - Tessa Englund (PhD/MPH)

“It was an honor to represent Virginia Tech and the MPH program in Atlanta, Georgia. I am thankful that the program was willing to fund the costs of the APHA conference as well, which made it possible for me to attend...Thank you to all who made it possible for me to attend APHA this year!” - Mariah Malachi (MPH) 

“In addition to networking, I attended a few fascinating oral presentations. One in particular that interested me was a presentation on the opioid epidemic. A speaker from this presentation spoke on the amount of opiate overdoses that occur after individuals are released from prison. This presentation was intriguing to me as it pertains to my practicum of studying Hepatitis C at the New River Health District.” - Tullia Johnston (MPH)

“One of the unexpected experiences that I truly enjoyed was getting to know the two vet students who attended. It was so nice to meet them and spend time with them. Now, when I walk the halls of the building, it’s possible for me to bump into vet students I know! Professionally, I was able to interact with a few people and organizations that might help me in the future. Also, seeing and hearing public health in practice provided me a better overall picture of career opportunities.” - Monica Goyanko (MPH)

“After arriving at the conference, I realized how many people there are around the country with a vested interest in public health. This was a very encouraging experience for me! I was surprised to be able to attend a booth for each public health program in the country. At these booths, I was fortunate enough to network with individuals from medical schools to which I had applied. I learned additional specific information about particular programs and even received some business cards. This was one of the most beneficial experiences I personally had at the conference.” - Tullia Johnston (MPH)

“Other students and I were able to network with people who I know will be a positive influence on our future endeavors. Personally, I met the ex-president of the American Occupational Therapy Association who encouraged me to contact her when I begin selecting OT schools (super cool!). Throughout the week, I also heard from Hokie Alum who had become successful in their careers which they accredited to their experiences as former MPH students at Virginia Tech. It was a great experience to have so many people from all over the world come up to our VT MPH booth and share stories about their public health experiences, insight on how to use an MPH degree to our benefit, and many had stories of friends and family that had also attended Virginia Tech.” - Mariah Malachi (MPH)

“I now know more about the variety of career paths and employers, including consulting work, that are going to be targets for applications when I am approaching graduation. I am also going to follow up with some of the companies that had internships to potentially gain applied experience and explore these career paths further.” - Tessa Englund (PhD/MPH)

“APHA enhanced my understanding of the immensity of what ‘public health’ is.  It broadened my horizons and allowed me to think of career options that I hadn’t considered before.  As a DVM/MPH student, I thought my career prospects were limited to those dealing with zoonotic diseases.  But as One Health continues to gain support as a technique to tackle the world’s public health issues, my role as a public health veterinarian seems bright!” - April Gardner (DVM/MPH)

“I would definitely recommend this experience to other people, even if you aren’t specifically interested in public health. The conference covers an immensely broad range of topics, and you get to meet so many different types of people. I got to meet people from Tanzania, China, and Germany, not to mention a range of people from around the United States. Exposure to different types of people and learning about their cultures and public health struggle parallels is a fascinating experience that makes you feel connected to the rest of the world. You realize that public health issues are not significant in just one or two countries, but they encompass the entire world.” - Samantha Talley (DVM/MPH)

“Going forward as a soon-to-be MPH graduate, I am now excited to see how success will follow me as it has done for so many who were in attendance at the APHA conference. My advice to MPH students to come: GO TO APHA! There is so much that you will learn and so many doors will be opened for you as a result of networking and being open to new information at APHA conferences.” - Mariah Malachi (MPH)