Lock Haven health science students shine at PA Public Health Conference

LOCK HAVEN — A group of Lock Haven University students, faculty and community leaders recently attended the Pennsylvania Public Health Association (PPHA) annual conference. The group, led by Health Science Professor Dr. Beth McMahon, presented research and engaged with industry leaders from across the state.

The theme of the 2017 PPHA conference, “Addressing the Health Care and Public Health Needs of Vulnerable and Underserved Populations: Issues and Solutions for the Delivery of Quality Community-based Services,” was particularly fitting for the group from Lock Haven University which has consistently been named a leader in preparing students to meet the needs of underserved populations.

Seven of the 10 students attending presented research over the course of the conference. Junior health science major Anthony Eck, of Hanover, presented about the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition’s (LHCIC) use of task forces to address priority health issues identified in the county.

“Positive changes have been identified in the county including the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) data reporting a reduction in alcohol and cigarettes by sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders,” Eck said.

Student Danielle Boyles, of Clearfield, presented her research evaluating the impact of community-based exercise program Strong Women/­ Growing Stronger, which showed that, “community-based programs like Strong Women/Growing Stronger are inexpensive and effective at filling gaps in underserved rural communities of Pennsylvania.”

“The conference reinforced my desire to remain active in community/public health education through my career,” said senior health science major, Rebekah Hershey. “Learning about interventions and collaborative approaches different populations are taking to solve problems and enhance health made me really excited to continue in the field after graduation.”

For McMahon, witnessing LHU students interact with public health leaders and presenting high-quality research is a point of pride.

“During the conference our students met powerful leaders in our field including Tom Quade, president, American Public Health Association; Jessica Boyer, president, PA Public Health Association; Lisa Davis, director PA Office of Rural Health; Dr. Karen Murphy, secretary of health, PA Department of Health and many more,” McMahon said.

She said that along with gaining high-value skills, the conference is an important opportunity to network. Many of the students intend to pursue future projects and collaborations with individuals and organizations in attendance, both during their time as students and upon graduation.

The conference also provided students with the ability to bring learning to life. Student John Reilly said that witnessing first-hand the health disparities present in underserved populations across the state had a distinct impact.

“We often talk about health disparities and underserved populations in the classroom setting, but seeing the different groups of people that have unserved or underserved healthcare needs was an eye-opener,” Reilly said.

Many of the students came away from the conference energized about their field of study and future career. If the goal of public health education is to incite change and awareness at the community level, LHU’s students now have more tools to positively influence the Commonwealth.

“The PPHA conference gave me an appreciation of things that are going on outside of my community,” Hershey said. “I also found it really refreshing to see people working so hard to enhance health, break down barriers, and collaborate within communities.”