I get frustrated sometimes with the academic nature of policy presentations. I have spent enough time in masters classes and government work to be used to lofty language and bureaucracy-speak, but I wonder at its utility at a conference that is focusing on how the public health rubber is meeting the road in this climate of health reform. The breakout session I attended this morning was on the public health workforce. I scratched my head while trying to understand the connection between the session topic and the Brian Smedley’s (from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies) presentation on the disparities between white-dominated and minority neighborhoods (the moderator had to make the connection for the audience). Cynthia Lamberth from the University of Kentucky raised some good points on planning for changes in the number of public health workers that will be driven by reform. She said that while many universities and states are in a “wait and see” mode, we cannot afford to wait – hospitals and clinical establishments and planning now, and the field of public health should be following suit. (She also pointed out the convoluted and outdated hiring practices that make it so difficult for public health graduates to get jobs in academia or with the government, which I definitely appreciated).
The presentation that got me up to the microphone, however, was one by John Lisco of the CDC on their various fellowship programs. Any students or recent graduates reading this blog are most likely familiar with at least a few of these programs – Public Health Prevention Service, Epidemic Intelligence Service, Presidential Management Fellows, etc. – and are also familiar with how incredibly competitive they are. The competitiveness of a program is not a bad thing in and of itself, but in an economic climate (and corresponding job market) like ours, finding work is extremely difficult no matter where the vacancy is. On top of that, many of these fellowship programs have highly specific rubrics and ranking criteria – while the essays have very vague prompts. You have to know someone on the inside to know what the selection panel is looking for in your essay, and how to make yourself stand out among thousands of qualified applicants.
On the other hand, it was great to hear about the experiences of communities implementing prevention and wellness program during the afternoon sessions. Major areas of focus included obesity, smoking cessation, and working to make health foods available in low socioeconomic neighborhoods. I was particularly impressed by the results of tobacco-cessation program in Indiana presented by Carla Sneegas, Executive Director of the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program. The program used a fax-referral system that targeted employers, allowing them to fax in a form to enroll in the program to help their employees quit smoking. The program utilized various approaches, including “quitting competitions” and monetary incentives, and some employers had cessation rates of 50% or more. Kudos to Ryan Kellog from Seattle and King County for calling out APHA on having soft drinks at lunch. He added a slide at the end of his presentation on the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program in King County with the picture of the spread with Coke, Sprite, and Diet Coke. “Why the heck were there sugar-sweetened beverages at lunch today?” Good question, indeed.