Reflections on Real World Public Health Day 2013

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By Kelly Washburn, MPH, ICH Research Associate II

On April 3rd 2013, The Institute for Community Health (ICH), in collaboration with the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD), hosted its 10th annual Real World Public Health (RWPH) Day. This free, half-day seminar aims to provide public health graduate students with insight into “a day in the life” of a local public health department. The event features breakout workshops, a career panel, and a keynote speaker from the field – this year Patrick Wardell, CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance delivered the keynote.

Over the past few months, I’ve worked closely with CPHD staff to plan and implement this year’s RWPH Day. As a former MPH student, I remember seeking out real-life examples of the information my professors discussed in class. One of the major benefits of Real World Public Health Day – the workshops in particular – is that the event provides students with a great opportunity to learn about a variety of public health issues that public health departments and the field in general currently confront.

Workshop foci change each year and typically feature the current “hot topics” in public health. This year, the workshops highlighted climate change and emergency preparedness; fatherhood as a social determinant of health; and policy development for workforce domestic violence. By depicting partnerships across different sectors, the workshops provide students with examples of the opportunities and challenges that exist when multiple stakeholders work together. The workshops are intended to be very interactive, and students are encouraged to generate discussion questions. In many workshops, students also have the opportunity to offer programmatic recommendations to presenters.

The specific goal of the career panel is to introduce students to a variety of career paths within public health, with each panelist speaking about his or her job responsibilities and the skill sets required. Along with the workshops, the career panel provides students with the opportunity to learn about the breadth of career options available to public health graduates and encourages students to explore different opportunities to work in public health. This year’s panel featured a research associate, a registered nurse, an emergency preparedness coordinator, and a health promotion and marketing coordinator who was actually a student in the audience a couple of years ago! She shared that attending Real World Public Health Day greatly influenced her career decision to go into health promotion and marketing.

The overall feedback from this year’s students was very positive; many stated they enjoyed hearing about the complexity of public health programs, how their coursework can be applied in real life, and the various career paths open to them. Hearing and seeing the students’ enthusiasm certainly validates the importance of continuing to offer this event in years to come!

Kelly Washburn, MPH is a Research Associate II at the Institute for Community Health.

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