Each year during the first full week of April, the American Public Health Association (APHA) brings together communities across the country to observe National Public Health Week. The week’s daily themes address the underlying causes of poor health and disease risk in an effort to raise awareness and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a long and healthy life.
Adhering to this year’s daily themes—healthy communities, violence prevention, rural health, technology in public health, and climate change—the Public Health Program's Master of Public Health (MPH) Student Ambassadors and Public Health Association coordinated events for students, faculty, staff, and community members across campus and in the surrounding region.
The week kicked off with a lunchtime walk around campus. “We focused the day’s activity on physical activity and outdoor access by showing off a great and easy way to stay healthy in our community—regularly using our campus sidewalks and community greenways,” said MPH student Taylor Holsinger. “We combined our campus community with our outdoor community in order to showcase the health and beauty of Southwest Virginia.”
On Tuesday, MPH student Shelby Borowski headed up a Violent Behavior Awareness information booth on campus. “Violence can negatively impact the physical and mental well-being of people. As public health professionals, I believe it is important that we educate others about ways to prevent violence,” Borowski explained. “During National Public Health Week, I had the opportunity to educate students at Virginia Tech about violence prevention strategies, as well as provide students with information about resources related to violence in the New River Valley area.”
Because rural communities have been hit hardest by opioid misuse and abuse, Holsinger focused on opioid addiction and Naloxone (opioid reversal) training for Wednesday’s rural health theme. The week’s biggest event, REVIVE–Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education, trained college faculty, staff, and students in how to identify an opioid overdose and administer Naloxone.
“By combining rural health with the opioid epidemic, we were able to provide training and resources in order to bring awareness to the frequency of opioid misuse/abuse and prepare the community to potentially save a life,” said Holsinger.
On Thursday, MPH student Steven Black created an interactive booth on campus to explore technology in public health—specifically, how smartphones can be healthy. “I feel like when people normally think about technology and health, they think large scale and high cost, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of health tools are available on the platforms that most people already use, and are low cost or free most of the time.”
Black sees technology as potentially having wide-reaching implications on public health. “I think if more people thought about these opportunities to easily improve their health using the technologies that are being created each and every day, the conversation about the impact of technology on health could be changed.”
The week concluded with a focus on climate change at the local level. On Friday at the veterinary college, MPH student Travis Oishi set up an interactive booth with tick samples and identification cards provided by college faculty. “Our booth was especially relevant because we see a lot of ticks here in the New River Valley. Being able to recognize tick species is a great way to reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases,” said Oishi.
In honor of National Public Health Week, Sophie Wenzel, program faculty member and Associate Director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research, received a Public Health Hero Award on behalf of the Center from the New River Health District. Wenzel joined other local public health advocates from the Community Health Center of the New River Valley, Carilion Clinic, and Virginia Cooperative Extension in receiving this award.
Laura Hungerford, professor and head of the Department of Population Health Sciences, thanked everyone who organized and participated in this year’s National Public Health Week activities. “Our students work year-round to improve health in communities, locally and globally. For Public Health Week, students did a wonderful job highlighting diverse activities that contribute to public health. We appreciate everyone from the college and on campus who joined in to promote awareness and well-being.”
— Written by Julia Hurley and Hannah Menefee