Leaving Out the Confidence Intervals

Working as a part of the group that developed the first draft of Grenada’s national alcohol policy was such a rich experience for me. Being interested in substance abuse, I was elated to have the opportunity to learn about this topic in another country and be involved in such an important step of curbing the harms of use.

My excitement did not come without some apprehension, however. I had never written or extensively studied policy before. Would I be able to effectively contribute to the development of this very important draft?

Our group consisted of three epidemiology students: myself, Allison, and Kevin; and one policy student: Tiffany.

“You’re writing like an epidemiologist” was definitely heard more than once during the week.

Although we students know that writing policy is much different from writing an epidemiological paper, it’s actually very difficult to switch your mindset in practice. Thanks to Tiffany’s help, we learned to rely less on numbers and figures, and more on framing the issue at hand to explain why the issue is important and why a change should take place.

Collaboration is a word that is thrown around a lot in public health. Maybe one person knows the statistics for an issue, someone else understands the legislation, and another can develop an intervention. But if these areas cannot work together and identify the objective effectively, change can’t happen.

I still write like an epidemiologist, and I will continue to do so, given the appropriate audience. But I am now more aware that there is a time and place for endless numbers and figures, odds ratios and confidence intervals, methodological specifics and statistical analysis descriptions. My epidemiology mindset can most definitely be used to help develop policy, but I need to be able to effectively communicate not only the data, but also why we should care.

I’m proud of our group for working together, understanding different perspectives, and being flexible in writing styles. As we are about to graduate, this gives me confidence that we will be ready and able to be effective public health professionals.

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