Interview with Sue Gallagher, Health Communication Director at Tufts
| March 6, 2011 | 4:18 pm | Interview | No comments

Interview by Cristi Carman

Sue Gallagher has a broad range of advocacy and policy experience; she has worked on issues as
varied as suicide prevention, the development of traffic safety materials for native Spanish-speakers,
and building capacity in state and local health agencies. In addition to working at the Massachusetts
Department of Health for years, Sue was chosen to be a Robert Woods Johnson Health Policy Fellow and worked with Senator Durbin of Illinois. As an internationally recognized expert on child and adolescent injury prevention, she has founded several injury prevention organizations and research centers, was chair of the American Public Health Association’s Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Section and worked with the Institute of Medicine to create the Reducing the Burden of Injury report. Now as the Director of the MS Health Communication program at TUSM, Sue has invaluable insights and expertise to offer students and community health advocates.

Cristi: Tell us about your connection to public health advocacy.
Sue: I became interested in advocacy when I worked at the State Health Department. I was amazed at how much we take for granted and the need for advocacy to get and keep public health issues on the agenda. I realized that a lot more than data is needed in order to be listened to and to make an impact. My interest has always been bridging the gap between research and policy and practice in whatever area of public health I worked. So advocacy is a natural fit; if you want to bridge that gap, you’re always trying to advocate for what is effective and efficient.

Cristi: How did you become involved?
Sue: The state health department changed my life and gave me a whole new perspective on public health and advocacy. One issue I was particularly involved in early on, in the late 70s, early 80s, was improving existing data systems – what is included on injury causation medical records and how it is coded. For instance, death certificates show the external cause of injury and are coded as such, which is the area I was working in. But when you looked at hospitalizations and emergency room visits, records usually included the cause of injury, but were not coded as such because there was not a requirement. The cause of injury is the missing link in injury prevention so in that way the records didn’t really help identify many aspects of this public health issue. Only the nature of the injury was coded, so you’d know there was a skull fracture but you wouldn’t know if the individual was hurt on the playground, in sports or in a car crash. I found out that no state in the country had a requirement for external cause coding and Massachusetts only had about 9% of external causes reported. I got more involved in the American Public Health Association and also started meeting other people who had identified the same problem in their states. And then I wound up leading a national initiative – we were able to get 26 states to adopt a mandate over a five year period and now most of those states have good external cause coding to understand and prioritize their injury problems based on both incidence and treatment costs. What was the impetus for my taking this on? Each state has a maternal and child health block grant and a needs assessment is conducted every five years to prioritize funding from federal dollars. Injuries, which are the leading cause of death for children and teens, never came up. I realized that was because statewide population-based data on nonfatal injuries was not available. The external cause of injury was not being coded.

Cristi: What lessons have you drawn from your advocacy experience?
Sue: It takes a long time to get changes made and persistence pays off. Drawing from my U.S. Senate experience: legislative assistants and fellows are very reliant on advocacy groups to come to them because they can’t possibly keep up on every single topic. When policymakers want to know what the climate is on an issue or to make a decision on an issue, advocacy groups can provide the pros and cons very easily. I learned how important advocacy groups are in policy making when I needed the latest and accurate information for floor debate or when determining what really should be included in a bill.. And the more groups you can bring together on an issue for critical mass, the more it strengthens the effort to get a bill passed or to get change. It takes time – but if you stick with it, you can get it done. Compromise is critical.

Cristi: What do you think the most valuable skills are in advocacy?
Sue: Very good communication skills, both written and oral, are important. You need to be able to convey what you want to say in a way that resonates with the person you’re talking to. Know your facts about the person in order to develop an approach. You need to be able to analyze an issue and succinctly get your message across, using only a few sentences to state the problem, describe how others feel and what the opposition is thinking, and propose possible ways of addressing the problem. It’s important to be succinct and to carefully choose your message. Also an ability to discuss both sides of an issue. An ability to bring groups of people together to collaborate around an issue. And the ability to translate research and synthesize it briefly for your audience.

Cristi: Are there any resources you can recommend to student who are interested in advocacy?
Sue: The Massachusetts General Legislature’s website has a lot of information relevant to state legislation. The Massachusetts Public Health Association website makes a lot of resources and information available on advocacy and a variety of public health issues. The advocacy section of the APHA’s website and the APHA Guide for Effective Public Health Advocacy are both great, useful tools.  The Thomas website is where you should start for the federal level. And the advocacy section of the Research America website has many advocacy tips and tools.

Cristi: Any final words of wisdom for aspiring advocates?
Sue: You can’t do advocacy piecemeal. Have a strategy and be persistent. Persistence will pay off. But understand that you will most likely need to compromise. Identify a champion to work with and don’t be discouraged because change takes a long time.

Summer Internships with MPHA

There is still snow on the ground but you can warm up by thinking of internships this summer!

Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) has announced their Summer Internships for 2011. If you need hands on experience in the Public Health field then you have found the right place. You can intern in these following fields:

  • Organizational Development internship
  • Act FRESH Campaign internship
  • Public Health in Payment Reform internship

To learn more click here or email Maddie Ribble at mribbl [at] mphaweb [dot] org

Interview with Anthony Schlaff, Tufts MPH Director
| February 27, 2011 | 2:24 pm | Interview | No comments

Interview by Cristi Carman

In addition to having extensive experience as a community health advocate, Dr. Anthony Schlaff, the MPH Program Director at Tufts, is committed to helping Tufts University Medical School students build advocacy skills. For instance, Dr. Schlaff is offering a new course, Public Health Advocacy. The course will provide students with one-on-one guidance in learning the fundamentals of public health advocacy and developing and implementing an independent advocacy activity. The course also includes attendance at the annual Health Education Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C., where Dr. Schlaff will moderate a discussion on incorporating advocacy into professional preparation.

Dr. Schlaff’s research interests include community organizing and outreach methods, physician-community coalition building, and Community-Oriented Primary Care models and methods. Read on to hear how he got started as a Community Health Advocate.

Cristi: Tell us about your connection with public health advocacy.

Tony: Most recently, I have been involved through Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR).  They house the Council of Graduate Programs in Public Health, and as an MPH director in a program not a school, I was a member of that group.  I became involved in the leadership of that group, trying to strengthen it as a place where programs could come together and learn from and support each other.  We became aware of the way the schools of public health were lobbying and using federal rule making to direct funding to themselves at the exclusion of programs, even when such funding was equally appropriate for programs or their students, and we started to advocate to change this.

Cristi: How did you become involved in health advocacy?

Tony: In part, as I described above.  I had early exposure to advocacy as a community health center medical director, where I became involved in a number of issues like the funding of CHCs [Community Health Centers], the relationship between hospitals and CHCs including the ability of CHC doctors to admit and follow their patients in a hospital, and Title X funding (family planning).  In 1997, I had an opportunity to spend time in DC as a primary care policy fellow and this gave me some basic tools and exposure to advocacy at the federal level.

Cristi: What lessons have you drawn from your advocacy experiences?

Tony: It takes staying power…it can be an exhausting game for outsiders, because there is so much to know, and the rules and schedules are complex and, in that way, it favors the insider….but the alternative to outsiders NOT doing this work is for government to become a totally insider game.  The reality is that government officials and their staffs are (for the most part) “corrupt” only to the extent that they tend not to hear outsider perspectives – government does respond to advocacy, but it is usually the organized interests who have the natural ability to have their voices heard.  When knowledgeable individuals who have a community or public perspective take the time to learn enough to engage, they are welcomed and heard.

Cristi: In your experience, what skills are most valuable in advocacy?

Tony: Doggedness – like I describe above.  A willingness to do the research on both the content and the political process.  Ability to be “personally political.”  To be able to create relationships and engage with people as they expect to be engaged and in a way that allows for finding commonalities.

Cristi: Are there any resources you would recommend to students interested in this work?

Tony: You can find some resources at the TUSK site for the MPH advocacy course (a pilot – still in development), MPH 211.  One is the book, Real Clout, which was published by the Access Project. is a good site for getting the basics on congress.  And the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) has a nice 20-page resource guide on advocacy, which I have put on the TUSK site.

Cristi: What advice would you give students who are interested in public health advocacy?

Tony: Go meet your congressperson (or at least their health staff) and your state legislator.  A good test of your ability to be an effective advocate:  when your state legislator walks into a room – would they recognize you and know your name?  Also, get involved at the ground level in some sort of national organization.  APTR is one possibility.  American Public Health Association is huge, but has opportunities that are manageable either through student specific activities or through specific sections, SPIGs and caucuses.

Community Health Workers Lecture by Tufts Alum Cindy Martin and MDPH’s Gail Hirsch
| February 23, 2011 | 8:13 am | Lunch Lecture | 1 Comment

Community Health Workers Lecture: Their Role and Impact in Massachusetts

Monday February 28th, 11am-12pm at Sackler 812

Community Health Advocates at Tufts invites you to join us in welcoming Gail Hirsch, MEd from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) and Cindy Martin, MPH from the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers (MACHW) to TUSM.

Who are community health workers (CHWs)? What do they do? What are the defining issues of CHWs as a workforce? How can we better understand and support community health workers in order to improve health outcomes in Massachusetts?
Ms. Hirsch and Ms. Martin will offer their expertise and insight to answer these questions and more! Join us to learn more about CHWs’ role and impact.
Tufts Nutrition Professor Jen Sacheck on Being a Community Health Advocate
| February 19, 2011 | 5:33 pm | Interview | 2 Comments

Interview by Meghan Johnson

5 Questions for Jen Sacheck about How to Become a Community Health Advocate

Jen Sacheck led a study here at Tufts University that found 75% of 4th-8th grade children in Somerville, Massachusetts were Vitamin D deficient and 97% were Vitamin D insufficient during late winter.  These findings prompted Tufts investigators to examine this issue on a broader scale and to do so, partner with more communities in the Boston area. In an upcoming study, Jen will be leading a team of researchers that hope to study 630 children in Everett, Malden, Cambridge, Somerville and Lynn.

Part of the intervention will happen in the schools (an awareness campaign) while the supplementation and research procedures would occur at a to-be-determined central location within the school district. Jen has learned quite a bit about working in local communities and advocating for healthier living through her work around Vitamin D. Read what she has to say to aspiring Community Health Advocates.

Meghan: How did you become involved in health advocacy work?

Jen: You know it was basically doing work as a scientist and then feeling frustrated that what we do never gets translated out to the public even if it is really relevant. My advocacy started when I realized initially, with the pilot data, that’s there is a big problem and no one really knows about it and no one really cares so even though the science has to go on, what often gets lost is that work to let people know what’s happening. These side projects, like the Vitamin D campaign, really let people know what’s happening; it helps make a difference. That’s really how it all spun out. It was really once I got into the community and dealt with families and kids and sort of understood that there’s a whole bunch of things going on that I really understood that the awareness has to be there.

The parents might read something as a headline and it can be totally misinterpreted. The Vitamin D Guidelines came out in November saying no one is deficient but in their community, everybody is! It might not be something they even care about and it’s not high on their priority list, but if there’s an awareness I think subtle things about knowledge can lead to change. And the first thing is letting them know what’s going on.

I think as researchers too, there’s an ethical component. If you study someone, they’re people. They’re not fish. You take home something from working with them too. I feel very strongly about that. I feel like in the past, in the clinical setting, I wasn’t able to do that as well. I had to move onto the next project. There’s not time built in, to sort of say “Oh I’ll give you an extra $10,000 to get the word out.” It’s a real bummer. That’s why it’s great working here with people who do communications well and are interested in public health. It’s like having one foot in science and one foot in policy; doing this work is really rewarding.

Meghan: What lessons have you learned so far from the work you’ve done in the community?

Jen: I let 400 kids know that they’re Vitamin D deficient, and even though I said to share it with your pediatrician, I only heard back from one parent asking, “What do I do? My son is going to see his pediatrician in April, is there anything I should think about?” Even though I said to contact their pediatrician, my contact information was on there and I was the lead study investigator. And no one got in touch with me. That made me just understand where vitamin deficiency falls in terms of priority. Or maybe they just took it literally and only contacted their pediatrician. It raises some concern about what other issues might be more important to these poor families. A big issue to me might not be as big to them. I think that was sort of a wake-up call.

And then you just hope that nothing went wrong logistically with getting the letters home. They were mailed with an address that was put on a consent form a year ago but there are misspellings and people move- it’s pretty transient. You figure there are about 10-15% per year that will move. For me, realizing that in order to keep doing this kind of work moving forward (I’m involved with the Tisch Fellows program too), I need to learn how to be a better community advocate. I feel like I’ve failed myself a few times.

Maybe I’ve published a study but did I send it to everybody that helped me out? Maybe I think they didn’t care but there’s multiple ways you can let people know what’s going on. I’m slowly learning about how to be more efficient about how to spread the results. You always hope you can do more.

But you don’t ever want to tell anyone anything prematurely. Like with my Vitamin D work, I wanted them re-measured because I didn’t want to tell 200 people that they’re deficient if they’re really not. But then the data is a year old and you wonder, “Will anyone even care what I measured a year ago and by the time I publish this actual article, it’s two years later. Does anybody even care anymore if I send this out?” You always get this little bit of sensitivity to ‘What took her so long?’ But that’s the process with academia and with publishing.

Meghan: Does that make programs like Friedman’s Nutrition Communication and the School of Medicine’s Health Communication seem all the more important to help the scientists get the word out. It seems like it shouldn’t be all on the scientists to also be the communicators.

Jen: Exactly, and we’re not trained in this way. We’ve had huge discussions at the National Institutes of Health about, “Who are those people?” We have like two people who deal with the school but it’s not like they are in our group or know what’s happening all the time. It’s not as natural sometimes. And the media is not necessarily tied in with a community. Finding those people that are the conduits is tough but very important.

Meghan: In your experience what skills are most valuable in doing advocacy work?

Jen: You have to be real and approachable. You have to have a sense of humor because sometimes people won’t listen to you and you have to deflect. Don’t take yourself too seriously but believe in your cause. Be passionate.

You want to relate to who you’re working with. If it takes me going into Somerville yesterday talking to one of the head school nurses at the Dept of Public Health so she knows that I lived in Somerville, I worked with them before, I’ve been with the kids. Then I’m much more real to her and I can say, “Yes I’ve worked with Lynn, the school nurse at the Healy School.” That all helps people trust and understand where you’re coming from. Even if you’re not from the community, you have to find that connection about why it is important for me to be in Somerville. And it’s not just because the demographics are exactly what I need for the particular study. But that there’s a reason I’m here.

Meghan: Most people who are going to read this are those who are interested in getting involved in public health advocacy as students. Do you have any words of wisdom for students who want to follow in your footsteps?

Jen: I think it’s the same thing for a student. If you can find something you’re passionate about and link up with research that is already going on. Sometimes there are funds in a study and someone says, “Oh yea getting physical fitness in the curriculum can help academic achievement.” But someone needs to actually do a project or a directed study and then they can push the cause that keeping your kids fit is going to help their test scores so we need to keep physical education in schools.

That sort of cause that someone is passionate about will get him or her in the door instead of just knocking on doors and saying, “What are you working on?” You have to find the group or the researcher or the institution that is working on that. You can’t do it on your own. There might be something you’re really passionate about but, I’m finding, the connections are what lead you out to this whole network of individuals that will help you with that. For me it was one person who told me to talk to another person who linked me up with three people. Every person I meet with, I ask, “Who else should I talk to?” So I’m going down different paths, sometimes in circles, but you sometimes have to spread the web a little bit.

Have Lunch with CHAT then come to the State House to see the launch of MPHA’s Act FRESH campaign
| January 31, 2011 | 3:00 pm | MPHA Events | 2 Comments

Join The Community Health Advocates at Tufts for the Lunch and the Launch of the Massachusetts Public Health Association’s Act FRESH Campaign!

What: Announcing the Act FRESH Agenda

– Promoting health community design
– Improving access to healthy food stores
– Increasing physical activity for kids
– Ensuring health school food for every child

2011-2012.  Featured Speakers include Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, United States Dept of Health & Human Services.

When: Monday, February 7th

The event at the State House will last from 1:00-2:00 pm, but CHAT would like to invite you to meet at noon to eat lunch at Sackler with other students interested in community health advocacy before we walk over to the State House as a group.

*Please note: Lunch will not be provided but feel free to bring a lunch or purchase a lunch from the café.

Where: 4th Floor of the Sackler building. If you can’t join us for lunch, feel free to meet us for the announcement in Room 222 of the State House (Beacon Street at Park Street, Park Street T Stop).

Any questions please email CHATufts [at] gmail [dot] com

VT Single Payer Boston Planning Meeting
| January 19, 2011 | 9:44 pm | Activist Events | No comments

Hi Gang!

Simeon Kimmel of Harvard Medical School emailed CHAT today letting us know that there is petition to Vermont Legislators regarding Universal Health Care. If you want to show your support and add your name to the petition please click here

Also they are having another planning meeting and here are the details:

“What? VT Single Payer Boston Planning Meeting – at Jonathan Takahashi’s
When? 12 noon on Sat, January 22.  What else? Bring something small or large to share for lunch : )
Where? 1153 Beacon St Apt 6, Brookline, MA 02446
Red brick apt building immediately adjacent to the Kent St stop on the C Line; directly across Kent Street from the synagogue.  Also close to the Longwood stop on the D Line.  Ring the buzzer for #6.”

If you would like their phone numbers just in case you get lost please email CHATufts [at] gmail [dot] com

Networking opportunity: Boston Young Healthcare Professionals
| January 19, 2011 | 9:34 pm | Social Event | No comments

“There’s a great networking opportunity with the Boston Young Healthcare Professionals this Monday, Jan. 24th from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

For more info:

WHAT: BYHP’s First-Ever Meet and Greet. We’re excited to begin connecting emerging young healthcare professionals!

WHEN: Monday, Jan. 24th from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Lir (backstage area), 903 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02115-3104 (Near Hynes T-stop on the Green Line).

WHY: Why not? Make great connections, learn something new, and help us build a stronger healthcare community to drive towards meaningful change for the future. If there’s something exciting going on in your field, or you’re looking for others to become involved in your latest effort, this could be a great chance to engage others in a new project or discuss exciting healthcare topics!

HOW: Please RSVP to:, or check out our Eventbrite site at: Feel free to bring co-workers and friends!

Light Appetizers will be Provided.

BYHP’s Mission is to connect emerging and passionate healthcare leaders in the greater Boston area to foster strong relationships and build knowledge across all healthcare disciplines.”

Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship for Outreach and Health Communications
| January 19, 2011 | 9:25 pm | Scholarship | 1 Comment

“Applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship for Outreach and Health Communications to reduce tobacco use among what the American Legacy Foundation calls Priority Populations*. Priority populations are those populations who are disproportionately targeted by the tobacco industry, or who often lack the tools and resources to combat smoking in their communities.

The scholarship, named for founding Legacy board member, Dr. Alma S. Adams will award two $5,000 scholarships to pursue undergraduate or graduate studies at an accredited institution of higher education in the United States. The awards will be granted on a competitive basis for the following: a) a record of commitment to community service on behalf of an underserved community, preferably related to tobacco prevention and/or control and b) the best use of the visual arts, media, creative writing or other creative endeavor to convey culturally appropriate health messages aimed at raising awareness of tobacco’s harmful impact.

Applications will be accepted from January 1, 2011 until April 30, 2011. Awardees will be notified by June 30, 2011.”

For the application and more information please go here

Taking on City Hall with MPHA
| January 15, 2011 | 3:35 pm | MPHA Events | No comments

Our partner, Massachusetts Public Health Association, invited us to their release of the Act FRESH campaign policy agenda. We are going to city hall to advocate for this public health issue to state legislators.

Act FRESH Focus: Promote Healthy Community Design, Improve Access to Healthy Food Stores, Increase Physical Activity for Kids, and Ensure Healthy School Food for Every Child.

Monday, February 7, 2011
1:00-2:00 pm, Room 22, State House, Boston

Featured Speaker: Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, United States Dept of Health & Human Services

For a detailed flyer of the event click Act FRESH Kickoff Flyer 2.7.2011