Faculty member helps shape public health priorities

Elizabeth Baker’s election last fall as a Governing Councilor for the Public Health Education and Health Promotion (PHEHP) Section of the American Public Health Association, one of the largest of APHA’s 32 sections, is no small commitment. The assistant professor of public health will serve a two-year term and participate in the next session of the Governing Council at APHA’s Annual Meeting & Expo in October 2020. The annual meeting usually attracts nearly 13,000 public health professionals. Leading up to that, she will attend monthly meetings with the PHEHP section leaders to better understand the section’s public health priorities.

Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., M.P.H., C.P.H.

It’s a responsibility she takes seriously: The Governing Council is the representative legislative body of the association, and the Councilors vote to adopt policy statements to articulate APHA’s position on public health issues to impact legislation and regulation at all levels of government. Among other tasks, the Councilors vote on the annual meetings’ themes and elect the association’s Executive Board members.

Dr. Baker is also motivated to inspire and encourage students in DMU’s master of public health program (M.P.H.) and master of health care administration program (M.H.A.) to seize opportunities for service and leadership. That’s what she did as an M.P.H. student at East Carolina University in North Carolina. Because the state didn’t have an NCPHA Student Assembly at the time, she collaborated with other public health programs to propose creating one. That led to her election as the new assembly’s interim president and engagement with the national APHA Student Assembly.

“By far, that was my most fruitful strategy in developing my network of public health practitioners and scholars,” she says. “Once I was elected to APHA’s Student Assembly as mentoring co-chair, I was often provided the opportunity to act as a student liaison on various national committees.”

Eventually, she got involved in the APHA Sexual and Reproductive Health Section and served as its governing councilor for two years. With continued membership in this section, she remains passionate about her advocacy related to reproductive justice. Moreover, she supports the activities of the Women’s Caucus by reviewing submitted abstracts for and moderating oral sessions at the annual meeting.

“It’s very empowering, motivating and energizing to be in a room filled with people who are so passionate about improving the health of our communities,” Dr. Baker says. “It’s an opportunity to serve my profession and allows me to continue networking, identifying colleagues to engage with in research.”

She notes that the Council on Education for Public Health, which sets accreditation standards for public health programs, recently changed those standards; while the DMU M.P.H. program was reaccredited by CEPH in 2016 for seven years, the longest term granted by the council, her networks allow her to “learn from colleagues about successes in their respective programs” and bring back ideas for programmatic quality improvements to the University.

Equally important, her APHA leadership is a way to promote DMU’s Department of Public Health (D.P.H.) as well as student opportunities in the association.

“We need programs like those facilitated by DMU’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs to support students in developing strategies for building cultural competence,” she says. “D.P.H. faculty aim to reinforce and enhance those skills in our programs by offering a curriculum designed, in part, to train students as public health practitioners who can develop, implement and evaluate strategies to address social determinants of health and health disparities. Our profession plays a critical role in working toward health equity, and I am proud of our innovative approaches to training the future public health workforce.

“I feel strongly about encouraging our students to get involved, whether it be in a professional organization, on local boards, or as a volunteer,” she adds. “In public health, we almost always work in groups. There are skills you can’t master without immersing yourself in those ways.”

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