Competency #2: Self-Reflection

Ramya Palaniappan, MPH Candidate University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Ramya Palaniappan is a first year Masters of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health student. Her passion for maternal health started in college when she interned at a productive health clinic and found a love for women’s health and social justice. After college, she did an AmeriCorps year at a day shelter for women and children, and then returned back home to work at the same reproductive health clinic. Her public health interests included health equity, maternal health and birth outcomes. During her free time, Ramya likes to cook, be outdoors and listen to podcasts!

“Right after undergrad, I did a year of service at a day shelter for women, children and non-binary folks experiencing homelessness. My role was to direct the food program and assist in the management of the hospitality room. This year was challenging yet rewarding. I was grateful to be a part of a team that provided care specifically for women dealing with loss of home since many of the homeless services in downtown Portland served predominantly men or families.

The lessons that I learned through this position emphasized the importance of self-reflection when working with marginalized communities and when implementing a program. First, coming into this role, it was important for me to unpack any preconceived notions that I had about people experiencing homelessness. I was always taught to stay away from people on the street and this was reinforced by our societal norms. But through this year, I understood that all people just want to be seen, heard and valued. People experiencing homelessness are often denied this dignity and denied the basic rights that come with having a roof over your head.

One of my projects in this position was to assess levels of food insecurity in the population we were serving. I created a food security survey and left it at the front desk for everyone to fill out. However, no one filled it out. I took some time individually and with my supervisor to brainstorm ideas on how to garner interest in this survey. I quickly realized that many people experiencing homelessness have filled out an abundance of paperwork and have waited in ridiculously long lines to receive services. Filling out more forms was not of interest to a lot of people who came into our hospitality room. In addition, I remembered a conversation that I had with one of our guests during my first month in the position. She told me that while she appreciated our community space, what she wanted most was a door. Each shelter and service that she used was crowded, and she just wanted a door to close it all out. Because of these reflections, I decided to switch my survey to a one-on-one interview. People had the opportunity to sign up to chat with me individually. Changing how the survey was distributed allowed more people to voice their opinions and share their experiences. This was an important lesson for me on community engagement because it illustrated the significance of having projects catered to the population you are working in.” 

-Ramya Palaniappan

Competency #1: MCH Knowledge Base/Context

Liz Corey, MPH Candidate University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

After completing undergraduate degrees in sociology and anthropology at Montana State University, Liz worked with non-profits addressing food insecurity, mental illness, substance use, homelessness, and adolescent pregnancy primarily as a case manager. She enjoys making connections between public health and other industries to address health issues from a holistic approach which prompted her to pursue an MPH working with the maternal and child health population. Liz is minoring in epidemiology and sexual health to support her research interest in reproductive health and equitable access to care.

“My entry into maternal and child health was working as a case manager with young mothers receiving services through a community mental health center. This experience has provided me with enough personal anecdotes about the multiple ways that systemic and socio-cultural barriers can negatively impact access to services as well as the value of partnering with community organizations to address gaps in services. I could describe disparities in the context of a family I was working with and knew quite a bit about what is available in my community but had no knowledge of national maternal & child health programs and a larger systems approach to providing maternal and child health services.

My student deployment with the Title V Needs Assessment team in the Community & Family Health Division at the Minnesota Department of Health has allowed me to approach disparities and strategies in an entirely new way by gaining insight into how federal funding is managed, dispersed to community health boards, and how statewide data is collected on measurable outcomes. I have worked with the results of the Discovery Survey, a brief 2 question open-ended question survey that was completed by 2,000 people across the state of Minnesota, to code this data and support the prioritization process. I am writing data briefs on selected topics ranging from pregnancy intention to a culture of safety, abuse, and power to utilize with stakeholders, practitioners, and grant recipients this summer.  There are 42 defined topics for consideration that have been whittled down from a much longer list making very clear the wide scope and diversity of issues addressed by maternal and child health programs.

Collaborating across the state with numerous diverse partners is certainly challenging but discussing priorities and developing strategies together is the foundation of the first MCH leadership competency to have a well-informed knowledge base of MCH in general while applying this knowledge to specific communities and programs. There is always more to learn as MCH changes in response to policy, new research, and an ever-evolving cultural landscape with new opportunities to implement innovative programs to ensure that we as MCH leaders are constantly striving to improve population health through empowerment, partnership, and education. My experience providing direct services to mothers has proven invaluable when considering impact of programming and I highly encourage all MCH professionals to work directly with clientele in any way possible to further deepen their understanding of the real effects of the work that we do and deepen their understanding of diverse health experiences. “

-Liz Corey