Gaining a New Perspective by Getting Out of the Lab

Jun 1, 2020

By: Stephanie Cleland

For my public health practicum, I completed an advocacy and education internship at Clean Air Carolina. I engaged in multiple science and health communication activities such as tabling at the UNC Minority Health Conference and developing county-specific environmental health fact sheets. This experience gave me a new perspective on the research I do and taught me the critical importance of incorporating equity into environmental health work.

Tabling for Clean Air Carolina at the Minority Health Conference was one of the most valuable parts of my practicum. From my experience in environmental health research I’ve found that while minority health and health equity are critically important, they are often not central to the work we do. At the Minority Health Conference, I saw just how necessary it is to include environmental and climate health in the minority health conversation, and vice versa. Talking to conference attendees about Clean Air Carolina’s work shone a light on how little communication there often is between people working in environmental health and people working in minority health.

Building off my experience at the conference, I wrote a blog post about how climate change is a minority health issue. Writing this blog post not only gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I learned from the conference, it also allowed me to dig deeper into the environmental justice challenges North Carolina faces in a changing climate. Conducting research for my blog challenged me to think about climate change from a health equity perspective, something I had not done before, and ingrained in me the centrality of minority health to all environmental health work, both locally and globally.

I also developed one-page environmental health fact sheets for multiple North Carolina counties. The fact sheets locate and prioritize county-specific data on climate change and environmental health issues and concisely summarize them in an accessible, community-focused manner. (They will soon be available on the MAHA resources page.) Being able to successfully communicate the relevance and implications of my work to the general public means it is more likely to impact policy and promote change.

Overall, my practicum experience with Clean Air Carolina was incredibly valuable – I created products I am proud of, learned about tools that can be used for environmental health advocacy and education, became proficient in science communication, and broadened my understanding of what environmental health includes. Moving forward I plan to apply the science communication skills and health equity lens I gained during my practicum to my future work in environmental health. I believe this will enable me to conduct research that is relevant and impactful, hopefully promoting change that leads to a cleaner environment and a healthier population.