Students in Des Moines University’s master of public health (M.P.H.) program often make important, high-impact contributions to the health of communities and populations through their internships and capstone projects. This week, two of those students, Jennifer Bender and Aubrey Massmann, were among the M.P.H. candidates nationwide named by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, a peer-reviewed journal focused on public health research and practice, as “Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2019.” The honorees are listed on JPHMP Direct, the Journal’s companion website.
Of the institutions represented by the 12 “Students Who Rocked Public Health in 2019” and the 13 honorable mention recipients, DMU and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were the only two to have two students in the winning category.
Nominees were evaluated on timeliness and urgency of the public health issue addressed, level of success achieved, overall impact of the project, and level of inclusiveness and diversity. Jennifer and Aubrey were nominated by Pamela Duffy, P.T., Ph.D., vice chair of DMU’s public health department, one of the faculty members with whom they’ve developed a close professional relationship. The department houses the M.P.H. program and master of health care administration (M.H.A.) degree program.
Given the record number of nominations submitted, competition for the honor was high. The Journal editors prioritized projects that addressed the most timely and urgent public health issues of 2019.
“This is an amazing collection of emerging professionals,” said Justin B. Moore, Ph.D., associate editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an associate professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “The passion, commitment and creativity of our honorees is remarkable. I cannot wait to see how they will contribute to the profession in the future.”
“Our faculty and staff have the privilege of working with students who share our mission of improving lives around the globe by developing competent and compassionate public health professionals,” says Rachel Reimer, Ph.D., associate professor, chair of the public health department and director of the M.H.A. and M.P.H. programs. “Our students are passionate to make a difference, and our faculty work to ensure that our students develop the skills to make that difference.”
Jennifer was promoted last June to director of marketing for Prairie Lakes Healthcare System based in Watertown, SD, a position that includes managing community health needs assessments. “I knew collaboration would be key,” she says. She helped lead a collaboration among her employer; Human Service Agency, which provides behavioral health services, addiction treatment and counseling; and Boys & Girls Club to provide community education on drug misuse. The forum included a vaping presentation by a pulmonologist, an individual’s testimonial on recovery from an opioid substance misuse disorder, and a question and answer session with a panel of local experts, including a drug court judge, pain therapy specialist, law enforcement, a pharmacist and mental health counselors. Approximately 175 people attended the event, held at a local high school.
“It was evident how powerful our collaboration with local experts was during the question and answer session. We could have sat there all night discussing vaping and opioids with the members of the community,” she said. “Word has spread, and we will reach more people once the recorded forum is available online.”
Aubrey, who is pursuing her doctor of osteopathic medical degree at DMU in addition to her M.P.H. degree, worked on a team of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), in an internship arranged through DMU’s global health program, to analyze health outcome indicators related to climate change, creating a catalog of indicators for public and agency use. She also assisted in the creation of the Climate and Health Monitoring Outlook, a forecasting tool utilizing sophisticated predictive modeling to anticipate changes in the incidence of climate-sensitive infectious diseases using seasonal weather data.
Aubrey continues to work on these projects as they develop within USGCRP.
“Climate change touches every determinant of health, exacerbating health care disparities, worsening clinical outcomes for a multitude of diseases, and creating new, unpredictable challenges for an already over-burdened system,” she said. “As a future pediatrician, I hope to continue to integrate climate resilience into my practice and understanding of health care delivery.”
The “Students Who Rocked Public Health” series began in 2016 as an extension of a blog series, “Students of Public Health: Student Voices and Profiles,” which was designed to highlight students’ research and projects and give them opportunities to talk and write about them in a public forum. It also has the goal of engaging and recognizing people earlier in their public health careers, including as students.
“These individuals are the future of the profession. We want to highlight the great work they’re doing and encourage them to keep it up,” said Dr. Moore. “The ones who keep pushing on are going to change things. This is a way we can acknowledge their work and fuel their passion and compassion.”
Adds Dr. Reimer: “I am personally humbled by our students’ accomplishments – they juggle full-time jobs, family obligations and graduate school.”