This summer, I am interning at PR Collaborative, a small “boutique” public relations firm in Washington, D.C., serving clients in both policy and film. As a policy intern, I mostly work with foundations and campaigns addressing public health issues.
Working for an alumna, Kate Reuterswärd ’09, has been such a privilege. She is the quintessential Davidson grad—a spectacular leader, an innovative visionary and a passionate hard worker. She pushes me to edit and acquire new skills in an environment of endless learning and creative thinking. For example, once a week we gather as a policy team to show each other a new skill, a useful tool or an interesting article.
The project I have most closely worked on is the BUILD Health Challenge (BUILD—bold, upstream, integrated, local, data-driven), which is a national awards program designed to fund community collaborations addressing social determinants of health. Each coalition includes a partnership of a medical center, the city’s public health office and a local non-profit. For example, the Bronx Healthy Buildings Program is addressing childhood asthma by retrofitting buildings to improve environmental conditions and educating tenants and landlords about asthma triggers. The Challenge awarded about $8.5 million in grants to the 18 cities involved.
Complex Issues, Interdisciplinary Solutions
My interest in the intersection of public health and PR started at Davidson. This past year, I helped organize the U.S. Food System Symposium, a student-led symposium addressing growing concerns around the U.S. food system. After leading media relations for the symposium, I became interested in how PR shapes public policy conversations. I find studying public health so engaging because it is increasingly interdisciplinary. For example, in order to understand nutrition, we must take into consideration the politics behind food provision, the environmental sustainability of urbanization and the science behind agricultural practices.
After attending the Bringing Public Health and Primary Care Together: The Practical Playbook National Meeting (an event hosted by one of PR Collaborative’s clients), I was inspired to learn more about the collaboration between primary care and public health. Last summer, I interned at a hospital where I instructed patients with congestive heart failure how to change their lifestyles and diets to adjust to their heart condition. The volunteer-driven program I was a part of existed, in large part, because the hospital hoped to reduce the number of fines it received from early re-admittances. After many phone conversations with discharged patients, I learned quickly that there were obstacles to complying with the doctor’s orders. The issue I found most concerning also had the simplest solution—patients couldn’t comply with doctor’s orders if they didn’t understand medical jargon. Health literacy seemed like a simple solution at the time. The next year, I took a newfound passion for health education to Davidson and taught a cooking class to encourage healthy eating among fourth and fifth graders. I wanted to instill lessons about nutrition at an early age. From both of these experiences, I learned the importance of spreading awareness of public health issues.
I’m looking forward to working more on the BUILD Health Challenge because I am very interested in how a community collaboration can have lasting effects on the social determinants of health in a city. I have so much to learn from the team here at PR Collaborative and I’m grateful for the opportunity to research the intersection of public health and PR.