Public Health in the Field: Experiences of a Public Health Professional
By: Stephanie Pollard
Stephanie Pollard has over thirty years of experience in the healthcare field and earned her MPH from the University of Florida in 2004. In this story, she discusses some of her work in the field, outlines a week of her work in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma, and explains how students can get involved. Her experiences provide current students with a wonderful example of how to apply their degree and knowledge to the field of public health.
Health Workshops R Us (2004)
I began providing health workshops in 2004 by volunteering in the Shands Eastside Education Series program. Shands at UF initiated/created the community health program. The program was designed to provide health and wellness workshops to the Gainesville Eastside communities. The communities really enjoyed my style of presenting workshops and the understanding they received about the complications of chronic diseases. Shortly after starting volunteering, I began to get asked to speak at women’s conferences, health seminars on prostate cancer, worksite wellness for companies, etc. My presentation style is inclusive and personalized. I get the audience involved and I ensure that the workshop/seminar is understandable and will add knowledge to all people attending.
U.S. Virgin Islands (2008)
The opportunity to go to the Virgin Islands to speak on health and wellness began in July 2008. A colleague of mine hosted a PBS TV show in St. Croix, V.I. called “The People’s Pulse.” Natalie Nelson Tang How (host) invited me to be a guest on two of the shows to speak on prostate cancer. I was accompanied by an internal medicine physician on one show and a urologist on the second show. The prostate cancer specials were shown during the month of September 2008 for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. My colleague and I have continued to keep in contact with each other throughout the years. I had a Health Workshops R Us newsletter that I emailed every month and Natalie was one of my regular readers.
U.S. Virgin Islands (2018)
Following the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, I followed the recovery efforts on the islands and immediately contacted my colleague Natalie to ask her how the islanders were doing and get the details of the damage. I was aware of the impact that the devastation had caused to the people and I wanted to do my part to contribute to a resilient recovery. This led me to plan a trip to the Virgin Islands in 2018 and help with the rebuilding of the public health system.
I wanted to do my part to contribute to a resilient recovery.
On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, I arrived at St. Croix, V.I. The temperature was hot, but there was a nice breeze at the Airport. My friend and colleague, Attorney Natalie Nelson Tang How, arrived at the airport to take me to her office. There we discussed the itinerary for the week that the Commissioner of Health Services (Commissioner Felicia Blyden) had prepared for me.
On Wednesday morning, I gave a Youth Health Workshop at the local Youth Center for teenagers (both girls and boys). I spoke on sexually transmitted infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and what to expect during an annual physical for young adults. I spoke with the boys first and gave them a handout explaining the difference between STIs and STDs. The young men were not aware that there was a difference because they had always just heard STD. I informed them about the increasing rates of chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis, and explained that those STIs were treatable and curable. I discussed the signs and symptoms of the STIs and that it was essential for them to go to the local health department for treatment because having
unprotected sex with an STI spreads the STI to every person that they have a sexual encounter with. I also explained that STDs were treatable, but the virus is still within your body (herpes, HIV, hepatitis B, and HPV).
Next, I spoke with the young ladies and talked about STIs and STDs. I explained what occurs during a pap smear and what to expect during an annual gynecological exam. When explaining the signs and symptoms of STIs and STDs to the young ladies, I carefully explained the difference between normal vaginal discharge and abnormal discharge (appearance, smell, and amount). The young ladies had questions about having a pap smear, what the results meant, and when should they start having them. I informed them that they should have their first pap smear once they started having sexual intercourse, and if they experienced any signs or symptoms of an STI or STD they should make an appointment to go to the health department to be treated.
On Thursday, I gave a Senior Citizens Health Workshop at the local Senior Center. I spoke on exercise and demonstrated exercises for older adults (both standing and chair exercises). The seniors were very interactive and engaged with the music and movements. I talked about blood pressure and discussed some of the common medications for hypertension, including their common side effects. They had many questions about side effects and what they should do if they experienced them. I told them that all side effects should be immediately discuss with their healthcare provider and they should follow the instructions given; the medication maybe changed to a different dosage or a completely different medication. I spoke on the importance of annual physicals and what diagnostic testing is done according to age range, including: colonoscopy, EKG, breast mammogram, laboratory blood work (lipid profile – total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, VLDL and triglycerides), chemistry profile, complete blood count (white blood cell count, red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, RBC indices, and white blood cell differential). I explained what each blood test meant and encouraged them to keep a copy of all lab test results and diagnostic tests done because it helps them to be proactive and educated about their health. I discussed that if any lab results increase or decrease over a period of time, to make sure they bring that to their healthcare provider’s attention (sometimes lab results can be within normal range, but start to trend up or down and that can be a health issue that needs to be addressed). Most health issues that are addressed early can usually be treated with less aggressive or invasive procedures, the prognosis tends to be better, and the recovery time is usually shorter. We had a lively discussion and the Senior Center Director was pleased. He informed Commissioner Blyden that the health workshop was a great success and the seniors’ response was tremendously positive.
On Friday, I met with Commissioner Felicia Blyden in St. Thomas, VI for about 2 hours to discuss the damage that had occurred during Hurricane Irma and its effects on the entire healthcare system. We discussed government funding for rebuilding new hospital in St. Croix, strategic planning for restructuring personnel in public health management positions, and the hiring needs for rebuilding the hospital and healthcare staff. A substantial part of our discussion was about the need for public health education. Pregnant women needed to be educated about the increased rate of the Zika virus in the Virgin Islands due to increased mosquitoes from standing water and insufficient drainage systems. Senior citizens needed health education to help reduce the number of people on dialysis and decrease the number of people with kidney failure. Youth needed health education about STDs and practicing safe sex. I informed the Commissioner of the successful public health programs I had worked with in Florida. One program was the Shands Eastside Education Series, which provided health education on a variety of health topics to help the east side of Gainesville and focused primarily on churches and senior centers. The program was very successful, and it increased the knowledge of health conditions in the communities.
The Government Employee Health and Wellness Conference began the next day. For 2 days, we discussed the public health needs in St. Croix, employee work environment, and the importance of having a positive attitude in the workplace to reduce stress. I facilitated relaxation techniques, stretching, and breathing and did a demonstration of movements/exercises that could be done throughout the day and at home. We also used music to do mind relaxation. Sunday’s discussions included the public health needs of uninsured workers and the lack of mental health facilities on the islands.
Virgin Islands Take-Home Messages
My time in St. Croix and St. Thomas last year gave me the opportunity to be directly involved in the daily lives of people in the local island communities. Hurricane Irma happened in September 2017 and the rebuilding of the Islands were in the very early stages August 2018 when I visited. In the United States, we take for granted that we have a hospital in or near the community where we live. In St. Croix, the hospital had severe damage and very minimal services are offered. Anyone needing surgery must be flown out to the United States, which is a major concern for me and the Commissioner of Health Services. As a licensed clinical laboratory scientist and public health professional, I know that there are some health conditions that need immediate surgeries, and not having a functioning hospital can be fatal to the communities.
Now that funding is available for the rebuilding and restructuring of the U.S. Virgin Islands, my hope is that the islands will have a steady rebuilding progression and, in the future, funding won’t take so long to get to the islands to start the rebuilding efforts.
MPH students can volunteer, intern, or work for Health Workshops R Us. We have community events throughout the year. Currently, I’m partnering with a company that will help provide health and wellness education to the rural communities surrounding Gainesville. The project we are working on now is the Palatka Community Health and Wellness Project; this project provides health education workshops on diabetes and the complications of type 2 diabetes.
For more information, feel free to contact me:
Stephanie Pollard, MPH, MT(AMT)
Edited by: Meagan Sullivan
Stephanie Pollard has over thirty years of experience in the healthcare field and earned her MPH from the University of Florida in 2004.