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Health education is a rewarding career for many. You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse to become involved. It takes professionals in accounting, research, law and administration – as well as individuals who enjoy working with people – all collaborating to improve the well-being of others. Why care about community health? Several reasons, according to the Association of Schools of Public Health’s website, What is Public Health?, are: the importance of improving access to health care, controlling infectious disease and reducing substance abuse.
There may be no better example of a dedicated public health professional than Dr. Mine S. Seniye, chair of the Allied Health department at Brown Mackie College – Albuquerque. She has traveled the world preparing students and health care professionals to care for underserved populations. Here, she outlines five steps to implement a successful health program.
Step one. Assess the community
Whether you want to enhance community health in a Bosnian village or an inner city neighborhood, it is important first to understand the community as a whole. Who lives there? Where are they from? What are their current health practices? “This can’t be done long distance,” says Dr. Seniye. “You can’t just barge into a community and ask ‘What do you eat?’ You must take part in the society and let them accept you as a person.”
Step two. Community organization
Collaboration with community leaders is essential to any successful health program. “It is important to identify leaders and stakeholders in the community to recruit to the team,” says Dr. Seniye. The Minnesota Department of Health suggests looking for those who are in a position of power, or have already made decisions on previous community issues, and those who actively volunteer. Collaborators from the community help you understand the inner workings of the society.
Step three. Create and implement the program
When approaching any community to help, it is important to speak in terms of what they already have, and adding to it. “Rather than telling them you want to fix something or change the way they do things, you must communicate that you are here to enhance what they already have,” Dr. Seniye says. “Suggest what may be lacking, and integrate a solution into a program already familiar to them.”
Step four. Assess the program
An advisory group formed at the outset can be invaluable to assessing the progress of your efforts. “Keep the team involved. I always share small successes with the group – the number of patients, where they were treated. I see the grassroots community advisors as gatekeepers,” she says. “They keep us on track.”
Step five. Maintain the effort
Eventually others come in to carry on. They must be prepared to be effective in that community. “This takes a competency that many don’t have. They must be chosen carefully,” says Dr. Seniye. “I find that as I get to know people of other cultures, and students who want to engage, I also get to know myself better. It is a growth process. Students teach me something every day.
“All the knowledge, resources, and ideas won’t help without fitting into the culture you want to improve,” adds Dr. Seniye. Whether diversity occurs among the people staffing the program, or the people they serve, it is important to develop an understanding of others. Respect for their culture, beliefs, and ways of interacting is critical for success.