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Making the Case

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"Our goal is to raise awareness and mobilize students to start conversations and take action to influence others."

- Marisol Frausto, 2017 Public Health Advocacy Fellow

PUBLIC HEALTH PRACTITIONERS KNOW WHAT IT TAKES to effect positive change, but the high rates of preventable diseases and persistence of health inequities, among other public health concerns, signal that much remains to be done.

“People being healthy often has to do with larger systems or conditions of their environment,” says Dr. Michael Prelip, professor and chair of FSPH’s Department of Community Health Sciences. “By taking on a greater leadership role in advocating for the big-picture changes that are needed in communities, we in public health have an opportunity to be much more successful in advancing our goals.”

Traditionally, the opportunities for future public health leaders to learn about and engage in advocacy during their academic training have been limited. But the Fielding
School takes a proactive approach to training and engagement, and Prelip heads an initiative that is equipping FSPH students with the skills and experiences that will help them become effective advocates as public health professionals.

FSPH Advocacy Fellow Anna-Michelle McSorley (center) at a California Latinas for Reproductive Justice advocacy event.

The UCLA Public Health Training Program on Population Health Advocacy, now in its second year, embeds students in community-based organizations for sustained on-the-ground training designed to build their advocacy skills. With initial funding from The California Endowment, the program started in 2016 with six advocacy fellows; in 2017, thanks to additional funding from the Max Factor Family Foundation, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Fielding School, 25 advocacy fellows received support. Most students contribute 650 hours each toward advocacy in Los Angeles County over the course of nine months, receiving a stipend to ease any financial burdens.

In addition to this field experience, the advocacy fellows are engaged in a variety of activities at the Fielding School. Monthly workshops bring in experts to highlight advocacy-related topics. Advocacy Club provides students with peer support through the sharing of experiences about their field placements. And with generous support from Jerry and Lorraine Factor, the advocacy fellows are designing and leading the first FSPH Public Health Advocacy Campaign, a yearlong, school-wide effort focusing on violence prevention.

FSPH’s Public Health Advocacy Fellows are engaged in wide-ranging activities in the field. “We define advocacy broadly, as creating change to positively influence health,” explains Sarah Blenner, the program’s project manager. “People most commonly think of promoting legislation and influencing elected officials, but advocacy can also take place in the court systems, through institutional policies and practices, in health care institutions, in the media and through engagement at the community level.”

For advocacy fellows such as Joyce Thung, the field placement has provided a chance to immediately apply lessons from the classroom. The second-year MPH student in FSPH’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences has spent her ninemonth fellowship at Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to promoting an economy rooted in good jobs, thriving communities and a healthy environment. Thung is assessing the health, environmental and economic impact of LAANE’s waste and recycling campaign in Long Beach by conducting a health impact assessment — an approach that was introduced to her in a Fielding School course when she began her work at the organization. “It occurred to me that what I was learning in class might fit well with what LAANE needed,” Thung says.

Beyond the experiences Thung and the other Public Health Advocacy Fellows are gaining, the program is bringing benefits to the partner organizations by bolstering their capacity to engage in advocacy work. Public Health Advocacy Fellows will have cumulatively contributed approximately 17,000 hours working at nearly two dozen community-based organizations and government agencies throughout Los Angeles County by December 2017.

At The Wall Las Memorias Project, a community health and wellness organization dedicated to serving Latino, LGBTQ and other underserved populations, a 2016 fellow contributed to developing a curriculum designed to assist the organization’s leadership in its ability to advocate for LGBTQ mental health services in Los Angeles County, and a 2017 fellow worked on strategic planning,outreach to government officials and community mobilization for a hepatitis C screening campaign targeting the Latino population. “We feel like this is a great opportunity to show future public health professionals how a community operates,” says Andres Magaña, director of community engagement for The Wall Las Memorias Project.

The organization MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger has also taken in two Public Health Advocacy Fellows who, between them, have taken part in the development, implementation and analysis of food bank policies and practices through a national survey. “These students have been instrumental to the process,” says Marla Feldman, the national anti-hunger advocacy organization’s senior program director. For her part, Feldman adds, “I’m trying to expose them to the breadth of what MAZON is doing, the complex factors that go into ensuring that sustainable systems are in place and the importance of advocacy in making long-term change.”

At Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles based organization dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence, Public Health Advocacy Fellows have contributed to evaluating and developing advocacy efforts, including a youth advocacy training program on violence and intimate partner violence.“ When I first started working in domestic violence and sexual assault as an MPH student more than 20 years ago, no one talked about violence as a public health issue,” says Cathy Friedman, the organization’s associate director. “Thankfully, we have seen a shift in the field, but we still need more people in public health who can be effective advocates on these issues. One of our goals at Peace Over Violence is to contribute to that next generation of leaders.”

Peace Over Violence is also a collaborator on the year long FSPH Public Health Advocacy Campaign, which is led by two fellows and second-year MPH students, Bernadett Leggis and Marisol Frausto. “As fellows in this program we wanted to create a peer led campaign, so we all brainstormed and decided on interpersonal violence prevention,” Frausto says. “Our goal is to raise awareness and mobilize students to start conversations and take action to influence others. We want to show how violence can be viewed through a public health lens, and how advocacy can be a tool to help prevent it.”

Leggis says she decided to apply to the UCLA Public Health Training Program on Population Health Advocacy after concluding that she could make the most difference in improving health by learning how to effectively engage policy makers and empower others to advocate for themselves and their communities. Her motivation s not unlike the other Public Health Advocacy Fellows—many of whom, Prelip notes, are from under-resourced communities and, as a result, especially motivated to make a difference.

“Most of our students are drawn to public health because they want to have a significant impact on systems, organizations and communities,” Prelip says. “Through this training, both in the classroom and in the field, the students will leave FSPH with the tools to achieve what they came here to do.”

Change Agents

FSPH's Public Health Advocacy Fellows share lessons from their training experiences in L.A.

Alein Haro headshot
 
Alein Haro 2017
PUBLIC HEALTH  ADVOCACY FELLOW

Growing up, I spent most of my doctor’s visits in the emergency room of our local hospital. Because of cultural and societal barriers, I never visited a physician for preventive reasons. My health care experiences drive me to advocate for access to preventive care while improving the conditions in which marginalized communities live, work, age and grow. At Community Health Councils (CHC), I am leading a community-based participatory research project with insurance enrollers to understand barriers. Through this project, I engage with South L.A. residents to share success stories of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion and to provide policy recommendations to improve such programs. I monitor policies and legislation related to the ACA and safety net programs and communicate changes to stakeholders. I further advocate for health equity of under-resourced populations through legislative visits. CHC shares my perspective that population health status is indelibly connected to the structural and institutional policies that influence a community’s social determinants of health.

 

Saul Garcia headshot

Saul Garcia 2017
PUBLIC HEALTH  ADVOCACY FELLOW

For individuals immigrating to the U.S., leaving their homes and coming to a new country provides an opportunity for a better life. But life in the U.S. can be an uphill battle. My family experienced this — all four of us lived in one room within a house that my grandparents rented. Growing up in that crowded environment and the challenges that came with it are what drew me to Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). At SAJE, I am addressing housing’s influence on health and developing a healthy housing policy on the use of dangerous pesticides for pest infestations. It is important to me to advocate for tenants because of my experiences with similar issues. To truly advocate for a community, one has to understand the community. By understanding a community and advocating for their rights, I hope to speak for those who have no voice.  

 

 

Uyen Hoang headshot

Uyen Hoang
2017 PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCACY FELLOW

As a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, advocacy has been interwoven intimately in my family’s life. My father organized multiple boat trips to help others flee the war, continuing even as he was in jail. My mother fought to stay educated, attending night classes with men from the new communist regime who knew her father was a political prisoner in the re-education camps. There is a legacy of beautiful resistance in my blood, and I am proud to continue it through my internship at Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. To me, advocacy is both the swelling up of community power against oppressive systems and the subtle persistence to survive each day. The world that we want to see can be built, but it takes work. It takes embracing what we don’t know and transgressing past what we do in order to find health, justice and equity for all. It takes advocacy.   

 

 

Laureen Masai headshot

Laureen Masai, MPH ’17
2016 PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCACY FELLOW

I worked with the organization Peace Over Violence to evaluate a violence-prevention advocacy initiative that equips local youth with tools to prevent teen dating violence in their communities. As an epidemiology student new to advocacy, dating violence and working with teens, I didn’t know where to start — most of my training focused on study methodology and data collection. I was surprised at how sparse and old the data were on dating violence, especially among this very vulnerable group. The experience brought home the importance of research and proper data collection, and motivated me to develop evaluation materials to adequately capture the needs of these young people. The enthusiasm of the youth participants was inspiring, and the connections I made with them gave meaning to the results. I realized that data can be a powerful tool in advocacy, especially on highly stigmatized topics, by illuminating areas that need increased attention. 

 

 

Katie Wang Headshot
 

Katy Wang
2017 PUBLIC HEALTH  ADVOCACY FELLOW

While participating as an undergraduate in the University of California system’s UCDC academic internship program in Washington, D.C., I became captivated by the application of statistics in policy work. Now at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), I use biostatistics as a tool to support advocacy work that influences public policy for children’s health. As part of this work, I analyze trends in health policy; participate in visits by local, state and elected officials to the hospital; and assist in formulating study designs and analytical plans for research that will advance evidence-based modeling and programming. I have developed an Immigration Task Force charter for CHLA to respond to inquiries by immigration and customs enforcement agents and am currently evaluating the impact of Camp CHLA, a high school health career exploration program, on future career decisions. Through this fellowship, I have enhanced my professional knowledge and skills and am continuing to appreciate the importance of public health advocacy.

 

 

James Huynh headshot

James Huynh
2017 PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCACY FELLOW

I’m pursuing my MPH in Community Health Sciences/MA in Asian American Studies in order to meaningfully address health inequities in LGBTQ communities of color. At APAIT, a division of Special Service for Groups, I participate in three projects: writing grants to sustain our HIV/AIDS advocacy, working with HIV-positive elders to increase their self-advocacy capacities, and evaluating our housing program to determine its impact on viral suppression. I’ve learned that in order to even think about advocacy for HIV-positive individuals we need to ensure that they have stable housing, which remains a great unmet need. Stability is essential for clients to adhere to their treatment and have the capacity to advocate for themselves. Although the stigma of HIV is insidious, especially in alienating LGBTQ people of color, I have also been privileged to witness how our clients continue to thrive and live with an abundance of joy and laughter.