By Jessye Brick, Graduate Student at the UNC School of Public Health
I chose to study public health because I was shocked that the United States, despite having higher health expenditures, lags behind most other developed countries in birth outcomes. Throughout my first year of courses we frequently discussed why this may be and how the lifecourse model offers a new way of understanding and responding to the determinants of health. When Sarah first told me about Every Woman Southeast, I was eager to see how public health leaders were implementing the model. I believe that preconception health is one of the keys to promoting women’s health and it was incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to take part in this groundbreaking event.
The first thing that struck me was the wealth of diversity among the participants as far as age and experience. I loved hearing about everyone’s work and interest in Every Woman Southeast. As I saw nurses work with epidemiologists and nonprofit organizations work with government employees, I thought “this is what public health is all about!” Every participant was committed to learning from one another and that included me! I was encouraged to participate in every session and many people were interested in my opinions and career goals. The group was full of lifelong learners who continuously strive to improve their efforts. They recognized and embraced the fact that doing so may require them to move out of their comfort zone at times.
The existing programs in each state and the variety of ways that states have attempted to improve preconception health care also impressed me. South Carolina recently held a video competition for college students to develop preconception health materials while Florida is developing a request for proposals to improve the quality of the postpartum visit. Despite different focuses and approaches, many states identified similar challenges, including a disconnect between stakeholders fueled by competition for limited funds. It quickly became clear why a group like Every Woman Southeast is necessary. By working together we can learn from each other’s successes and failures, while developing new approaches to overcoming common barriers.