Boston community health workers get public health training in Harvard Chan program

Leaders in health graduates
Graduates of Harvard Chan's Leaders in Health program

November 30, 2017 – Ten local public health practitioners—all graduates of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Leaders in Health program—discussed their efforts to promote health and wellness in the Boston area at a November 16 capstone event for the program. The practitioners came from city health departments, community-based organizations, and local health coalitions focused on public health issues ranging from physical activity to sexual health to housing justice.

The eight-week Leaders in Health program offers community public health workers without a formal public health education an introduction to the field, including the fundamentals of program design and evaluation and community-based participatory research. The program uses an expanded curriculum developed by Harvard Chan School’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Community wellness

Participants said the Leaders in Health program gave them valuable tools to assess community health needs and to evaluate programs they help run.

Nancy Smith, program manager for public health preparedness at the Boston Public Health Commission, discussed a program that teaches Muslim women and girls how to swim, both to make them safer in the water and to improve their cardiovascular health.

Nancy Rihan-Porter, coordinator for injury and violence prevention at the Cambridge Public Health Department, talked about her work to revitalize the 25-year-old Cambridge Prevention Coalition, a community-based effort to fight substance abuse.

Karen Gately, executive director of the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH), discussed her efforts to improve health and wellness among residents of the Longwood-area apartment complex—and to get more people to use the building’s gym.

Gately said the Leaders in Health program helped show her the benefits of using “an integrated, comprehensive approach” to boost RTH residents’ health—by involving them in the process, conducting periodic surveys, and evaluating data. “We want to be able to measure what we’re doing, to know if our efforts are really making a difference,” she said.

Other participants in the program came from a range of organizations, including the Mission Hill Health Movement, the Boston Elder Health Disparities Coalition, the Boston Alliance for Community Health, Action for Boston Community Development, and Urban Edge Housing Corporation.

Strengthening school-community ties

Ra’Shaun Nalls, director of community engagement at Harvard Chan School, and Rebekka Lee, research scientist in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, coordinate the Leaders in Health program. Harvard Chan students Lauren Southwick, MPH ’18, and Hila Bernstein, MPH ’18, provided assistance with this year’s cohort.

“Our school benefits through the formal establishment of relationships with organizations, which allows us to identify local practicum opportunities for students, emerging public health challenges in the city of Boston, and potential community partners for faculty who conduct community-oriented research,” said Nalls.

Added Lee, “Leaders in Health exemplifies the concept of co-learning that is critical for authentic community engagement. While participants are building their public health skills to strengthen their programs, Harvard Chan leaders and students have the unique opportunity to learn about the fantastic public health work that is going on in our local community.”

Karen Feldscher

– photo: Sarah Sholes