Bloomberg School students weigh in on the future of public health advocacy.
Advocacy at its best, says doctoral student Raimee Eck, is about telling an authentic story backed by data to the right people at the right time.
She took part in the recent event Science into Action: A High-Level Forum on Public Health Advocacy at the Bloomberg School, where experts from around the world—including Mark Suzman, president of Global Policy & Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—gathered for a daylong discussion about how best to teach, study and practice advocacy.
Their collective goal: amplifying the voice of public health.
“The industries we are up against—whether it’s Alcohol and Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Food—all have advocates of their own,” says Eck, who is studying alcohol policy in Health, Behavior and Society (HBS). “So public health needs advocates too.”
After surveying course offerings at leading schools of Public Health, and consulting with prominent advocacy organizations and practitioners, the Bloomberg School’s Advocacy Working Group revealed a huge gap in public health academia. They found no place that studies advocacy and trains future advocates in a systematic way.
The group, which aspires to create the first state-of-the-art advocacy institute, is relying on information shared during the forum to help guide the process.
Students like Eck, who volunteered as rapporteurs, had the opportunity to hear U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) speak on the impact of translating research into policy, and participate in roundtable discussions with heavy-hitting advocates from around the globe: Bhutan, Costa Rica, Malawi and Liberia, to name a few.
“Their perspectives—although they were really broad—were focused on how to make advocacy work,” says Eck. “There are some strategies that work everywhere.”
Kelly King, a PhD student focused on prison reform, relished the opportunity to share ideas and questions with participating advocates, including Matt Meyers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The experience of contributing to the future of public health education was “exciting, powerful and meaningful,” King says.
Themes that Eck and King gleaned from conversations included the importance of learning by doing, and community partnerships.
“If Johns Hopkins puts [advocacy] as a priority and sets that direction as the biggest and oldest school of public health in the country,” King says, “that’s going to be very impactful—not only to the surrounding community, but the whole public health profession.”