Every year, the largest gathering of public health professionals, academics, and students occurs at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Public Health Expo. This year, the event took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with sessions focused on the theme, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: For science. For action. For health.”

This was the first APHA Annual Meeting and Public Health Expo for all of the program’s MPH students that attended. Navigating such a large meeting can be overwhelming for any attendee. MPH student Sodiq Aleshinloye, detailed how his schedule was planned, “My first day at the conference… I attended sessions that explained how best to navigate and network. On the second day, I was able to plan my schedule better by attending the APHA early professionals’ network, roundtable discussions with experts and scanned through several interesting posters. On the third day, I was able to attend One Health and some international health sections. Amidst attending all the various remarkable events, there were few social events that spiced up the thrill of the meeting.”

MPH students at the 2019 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
MPH students at our program's booth at the annual meeting's Public Health Expo
MPH students outside the 2019 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
MPH students walking to the annual meeting

One Health, an emphasis of our program, was brought to the forefront of students minds during the annual meeting. Catherine Meyer, MPH student, reflected, “Due to our program’s design, I was able to think about additional One Health impacts that any research and oral session presented. I feel very grateful that I am able to consider multiple elements to diagnose and propose solutions when tackling a public health problem.” Additionally, attending the annual meeting also helped students see the application of skills learned in the classroom. Emilie Schweikert, MPH student, noted, “I can honestly say I experienced parts of almost every MPH course I have taken through the APHA annual meeting. While attending a career panel on epidemiology, there were many skills that panelists recommended graduates have that I feel confident about thanks to the lecture and programming portions of Epidemiology and Quantitative Methods as well as the Public Health Leadership and Interprofessionalism class.  Having the background knowledge of various infectious diseases from Principles of Infectious Diseases made me more knowledgeable attending outbreak modeling sessions, and perspectives from Social Epidemiology and Health Inequalities aligned almost exactly with sessions on environmental justice, food insecurity, and the opioid crisis.”

Lauren Buttling, MS/MPH student, presenting her poster at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
Lauren Buttling, MS/MPH student, presented her research at the annual meeting

A general takeaway from all students that attended were the many opportunities to meet fellow meeting attendees. Malik Outram, MPH student, noted, “There were so many opportunities to network and meet new people. I met people from departments of health from Washington State (a fellow VT MPH grad), California, Florida, and people working for the CDC. The potential opportunities are almost boundless at a conference as everyone has connections and advice for young professionals and students.” Jordan Mills, MPH student, seconded and mentioned the benefits of our program booth in the Public Health Expo, “networking also occurred at the booth when individuals from different companies came by the booth with job opportunities.” 

How to maintain and build upon the relationships made from networking to the next step is often a focus of students. Lauren Buttling, MS/MPH student, noted, “I was provided with a great opportunity to present my research and network with those in public health practice, academia, and data analytics. I was able to explain the importance and applicability of my research to other public health professionals, while gaining their insights on next step…Overall, I feel like I am better poised to begin my post-graduate search and know where to seek out those opportunities.”

In addition to networking, presenting, and learning, attending the annual meeting often ignites passion and inspiration for working in the field of public health. Angelina Hargrove, PhD/MPH student, reflected, “The most fundamental and foundational component of my experience at the annual meeting would be during the open session. I came to the conference with no expectations and an open mind, afterwards, I left with the ideas of endless possibilities in ways to address health and inequalities around the world. The opening session keynote speaker, Dr. Sandro Galea, inspired, motivated, and reminded me why I attended the annual meeting in the first place. He stated, “we are better than where we once were, but we are nowhere where we need to be.” Because of his speech I was empowered and inspired to meet and share ideas with other professionals.”

When asked if they would recommend attending the annual meeting to other students, all students responded with a resounding yes. Rachel Burks, MPH student, noted, “I would definitely recommend the APHA conference to other students and early career professionals.  There is such a great breadth and depth of topics explored and explained.  Whatever your interest in public health, you will find sessions to expand your understanding and inspire you!”

MPH students taking a break and enjoying ice cream while at the 2019 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
MPH students took an ice cream break during the annual meeting