Post-Annual Meeting Reflections

As I scrolled down the #apha10 hashtag feed on Twitter, it seemed like everyone was singing (or tweeting, I suppose) the same tune – it was great to (re)connect with colleagues and friends at the conference, but there’s no place like home (particularly when your spouse picks you up from the airport with a bouquet of flowers and a dinner reservation).

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend either the global health luncheon or the closing general session this year, but I still had a great experience. As I unwind after a bustling and productive four days, I thought I would post some post-conference reflections.

  • Take the bus: I would challenge all public health professionals to at least try to work with the public transportation for these annual meetings. Public transport is a major issue for so many of our domestically-focused colleagues, so even just taking it from the airport to the hotel would provide a lot of much-needed perspective. Plus, I had a lovely conversation with a researcher from Milwaukee about environmental health and the built environment on the way downtown – you never know who you will meet on the bus.
  • Bring a smart phone: Okay, so this is really more of a personal note for myself. While the Mix and Mingle Lounge was great, I rarely got any signal inside the meeting rooms and so I could only tweet between sessions. And when I have the choice between Twitter and coffee, the latte is the clear winner (despite being shamefully over-priced).
  • Learn: Go to a session that focuses on an area that you do not know much about. I went to just one child health and survival session, but I learned quite a bit and added a lot of detail to my own “mental map” of the global health field.
  • Bring a pen: If you are looking for opportunities to break into the field, go to as many sessions as you can and as wide a variety of sessions as you can. While the expo is worth exploring and there are opportunities there, you can learn about opportunities by paying attention to the programs that presenters worked with and their sources of funding. Both years that I have attended the annual meeting, I have picked up the names of multiple fellowship and research programs.
  • Clone yourself: Both Dr. Gonzalo Bacigalupe and I lamented at not being able to attend the mHealth Summit that took place in DC this year – because it happened at the same time as the APHA Annual Meeting, and I am sure we are not the only ones. Luckily for everyone, next year’s mHealth Summit is taking place during the first week in December, which does not conflict with APHA (which happens during the first week of November). Plus, they will both be in DC – so all of your DCites will have everything right in your backyard.
  • Network: Get involved in your section! Attend the business meetings and social events, and don’t be shy. More than half the time, getting a job is all about who you know, so networking is absolutely crucial – your section are a perfect way to do it. I jumped right into the IH section at last year’s meeting and was welcomed with open arms; my friend experienced the same kind of welcome in the Cancer Caucus. Established section members love to take on mentees and will be more than happy to help you.
  • Write for us: During the “Careers in Global Health” session, I offered to provide my list of fellowships and global health resources to anyone who would write an entry for this blog. That offer still stands, whether you were there or not. I have a “Practical Resources for Students and Green Professionals” sheet, which includes paid entry-level fellowships in the field (for both US citizens and foreign nationals), domestic opportunities, and valuable sources of knowledge tailored specifically to those wanting to break into international health and development. If you are interested, pitch me your idea (to make sure we do not post duplicates) via e-mail: jmkeralis [at] gmail [dot] com.

Annual Meeting, Day 3: NTDs, Kids, and Careers

I started off my morning with two unpleasant experiences: a burnt cup of coffee from my hotel’s breakfast buffet and a session on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Please don’t misunderstand me – the session, hosted by Dr. Hélène Carabin, was very interesting, but pictures of the clinical manifestations of those worms will make even the sturdiest of young professionals’ skin crawl. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about onchocerciasis, or river blindness (did you know that those worms can live for 14 years in the body?); helminthes; baglisascariasis, or raccoon roundworm (in Brooklyn, of all places); neurocysticercosis, and trachoma. These diseases have rightly earned their designation as NTDs – they are inexpensive and easy to treat and prevent, yet most people have never heard of most of them. (Alanna Shaikh has a theory that giving them more descriptive and graphic names will attract attention to them – you can read her proposed naming scheme here.)

Next up was a session hosted by Dr. Elvira Beracochea on aid accountability and effectiveness. There were several very insightful talks and an interesting discussion (Dr. Beracochea always likes to involve the audience, which can be fun). After a lunch of Vietnamese fast food, I attended a session on child survival and child health, to which I was invited by Ms. Beth Charpentier (Ms. Katherine Robsky’s colleague from Global Health Access Program). While I believe that maternal and child health is very important (and I am thrilled that it is enjoying so much attention from Secretary Clinton and other development advocates), I am not very familiar with that area, so I learned a lot.

Finally, I attended the “Careers in Global Health” panel that is organized by Dr. Carabin every year. There was a very useful presentation on the key knowledge areas and skills that currently global health leaders identified as crucial to the incoming workforce. Ms. Carol Dabbs provided some practical information on the different points of entry with USAID, and then Dr. Eckhard Kleinau told his incredible story of breaking into global health after finishing his residency (he and his wife sold everything they owned and drove to Burkina Faso – from Germany! – in a VW van). If you would like any of this information, please contact me by e-mail at jmkeralis [at] gmail [dot] com.

Finally, the section held its closing business meeting at 6. After committee updates, Dr. Miriam Labbok was recognized for her hard work as section chair for the past two years. I personally will always remember her as a very welcoming face when I attended the annual meeting for the first time last year as a CDC fellow – she encouraged us “newbies” to jump right in.

Tomorrow’s Global Health Luncheon promises to be a real treat (though I probably will not be able to attend – I will have to navigate public transportation back to the airport). The malaria session is always well-attended, however, and it is in the morning – so hopefully I will see you there!

More APHA Blog Coverage

Other than myself and the official APHA meeting blog, some other folks are covering the Annual Meeting in Denver:

John Schrom, an epidemiologist based in Minneapolis who focuses on HIV/AIDS, is sharing his experience on his blog.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a special blog dedicated to the meeting.

Annual Meeting, Day Two: MDGs and Refugees

I am always amazed at how exhausted these conferences always leave me. It is an energizing kind of exhaustion – the wonderful thing about the annual meeting’s size and diversity is that there is always so much going on, and we always want to soak up as much of it as we can. But as sponge-y as I try to make myself, absorbing meetings, scientific sessions, the expo hall, and a lovely awards ceremony is enough to leave anyone a little drained. It does, however, make me admire all of our overseas colleagues so much more, because they manage to participate right along with us, despite what must be a serious case of jet lag.

After the business meeting this morning, I wandered through the expo hall. Then I attended a session on the MDGs and the right to development, which was quite a learning experience for me – I had never heard of development framed in a human rights context, so I was definitely exposed to a new way of thinking about the MDGs and global health and development in general. Dr. Elvira Beracochea recommended some great pieces to read on health and development in general, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (always a classic), the Paris Declaration, and the Millenium Declaration, among others.

After lunch at an Irish pub on the 16th street mall, I went to a very interesting session on forced displacement and refugee health, chaired by Mr. Jirair Ratevosian. One project in particular captured my interest – Ms. Katherine Robsky, who worked as a fellow with the Global Health Access Program – shared her work with a project on the Thailand-Burma border with a TB treatment project that worked with IDPs targeted by the military junta. Apparently the program takes on a handful of fellows each year for various health-related projects, so that is one to add to my list (all you students looking for opportunities – heads up!) I spoke with her and one of her colleagues afterward, since I have a special interest in refugee and IDP issues (I recently had an article accepted by Forced Migration Review, and I wrote about the Rohingya refugee camp earlier this year). Her colleague invited me to attend her presentation (during the Child Survival and Child Health 2 session) on a project working in the same area tomorrow morning, so I will have to add that to my list.

In the evening, I went to the IH section’s awards reception. I heard so many inspiring stories of people’s devotion to amazing work and got an awesome free dinner to boot. I will post pictures with this entry once I get them from the Dr. Padmini Murthy (probably after we have all recovered back home).

The APHA 2010 Annual Meeting Begins!

I flew into the mile-high city this morning with a delicious sense of anticipation.  Remembering the energy that I brought back with me from Philadelphia last year when I attended APHA’s annual meeting for the first time, I am excited at what this year will hold now that I have a decent idea of what the heck is going on.  I landed at the Denver airport at 7:20 a.m., dashed outside to catch the bus to my hotel (because who wants to pay $21 for a shuttle when the bus only costs $9 one-way?), tossed my bags down in my hotel room and dashed off to the Convention Center.

I made it just in time for the Global Health Connections Committee meeting.  After introductions, Dr. Jaya Prakash gave a summary (accompanied by myself – with two minutes’ notice! – and Ms. Vina HuLamm) of the progress on the Global Health Expertise Directory, which is expected to launch early next year.  I skipped the Opening General Session to staff the International Health Welcome Booth, but I heard it was a powerful and inspiring experience – you see the videos of it on the APHA Annual Meeting Blog, and the videos are also posted on APHA’s YouTube Channel.

The IH Section had its first business meeting this afternoon at 2.  We saw a lot of new faces, and Dr. Miriam Labbok encouraged them to get involved in one of the many committees  and working groups.  I had a chance to meet several members that I connected with globally, including Dr. Gonzalo Bacigalupe. 

I will be recapping the sessions and meetings I attend on this blog and posting updates on Twitter (when I can get wireless in the convention center, anyway).

My Twitter handle is @jessicakeralis. Other IH section members on Twitter include Dr. Bacigalupe (@healthglobal and @bacigalupe) and Mr. Jirair Ratevosian (@jratevosian). APHA is also tweeting with @APHAAnnualMtg and @PublicHealth.