Seven MPH students from the College of Public Health programs in Tucson and Phoenix engaged in health promotion and community collaboration in Graham and Greenlee Counties during one week in mid-August.
The Rural Health Service Learning Institute is part of the College of Public Health Rural Health Professions Program, a partnership of the College and the Arizona Area Health Education Center. Under the guidance of Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, Kerstin M. Reinschmidt, PhD, MPH, and our community partners, student activities included:
- building walking paths for a demonstration garden at Our Neighbor’s Farm and Pantry;
- a local tour in and around Safford to learn about historical, environmental and economic issues;
- talking over lunch with Graham County Health Department to gain insights into the diverse work of a rural health department;
- engaging with elders during breakfast at the SEACUS (South Eastern Arizona Community Unique Services) Graham County Senior Citizen Center;
- delivering Meals on Wheels;
- touring a nursing home and assisted living unit for insights into resources for elders in a rural community;
- preliminary safety and quality scoring in two child care and early education centers under the umbrella of UA Extension;
- visiting the copper mine in Morenci to explore mining-related public health issues.
Through these activities, daily discussions and reflections, students gained insights into historical and socio-economic contexts of living in rural areas, learned about rural challenges associated with geographic isolation and limited funding, but also began to understand the strengths of rural communities found in social connectedness, creative problem solving and dedication.
Students were impressed about the pride in the local community, the commitment to help each other, and the drive for “homegrown” capacities in health care and public health expressed by community partners. During the Thank You Breakfast at the Main Street Café (sponsored by the Eastern Arizona Area Health Education Center (EAHEC)), students shared their reflections on the week’s activities with the community partners.
The course instructors are grateful to the community partners and AHEC who have made the 2015 rural health service learning possible. Thanks also to guest instructor Agnes Attakai, MPA, and, of course, the students, all of whom helped to make this service learning course a success. We are already looking forward to what next year will bring!