Students on both the Grenada and Texas trips this week are part of PHAST—the Public Health Action Support Team—which has been a vital part of SPH since 2005. Think of it as an agile team of highly trained public health students who are capable of rapid response to emergencies (they’ve done disaster-relief work on the Gulf Coast and last year answered a call to go to Kentucky on short notice after a deadly tornado strike). They also participate in ongoing partnerships in communities throughout the U.S. and overseas. In 2009, a score of PHAST students spent a week in China learning about that country’s health challenges and public health infrastructure.
Since its inception, PHAST has trained over 400 students and sent nearly 200 of them on field-experience trips to places as far-ranging as China, the Dominican Republic, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Students are required to complete a year of domestic field experience before traveling abroad with PHAST.
Dana Thomas, program lead for the PHAST program, accompanies at least two PHAST trips a year. “These experiences push and challenge the students,” she says. “Experiences like Texas and Grenada force them into uncomfortable situations that they normally would not be in, and it’s encouraging to see them rise to the occasion and to see how they’ll actually practice public health when they graduate. It’s an important aspect of their education—to see public health in action with partnerships in such a diverse array of communities.”
It’s a pleasure to watch these dedicated, intelligent young professionals in action and to witness their growth.