Building Bridges, Tearing Down Fences: Lessons from the Front Lines

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Progreso International Bridge and Rio Grande River

Lesson 1: Don’t underestimate the power of community

As public health practitioners if we TRULY want to improve health and quality of life, we MUST build sturdy bridges with the community, built on pillars of TRUST, GENUINE COMPASSION, and EXPERTISE and a SENSE that all individuals in the community matter.

As I was diligently using my persuasion skills to entice college students to sit down for 10-15 minutes and take our survey, I quickly learned that the best recruitment approach was emphasizing how the survey was seeking THEIR OWN perception of their communities’ health needs. I particularly noticed initially quizzical looks melting away, replaced by warm smiles as I passed them the survey to complete. I realized in those moments that I was tearing down the walls and cementing the pillars of the bridge between them and me.

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The battle field

Lesson 2: There’s no substitution for experiences gained through fieldwork

As public health students, we spend hours and hours in the classroom learning about theories, ideas, and approaches to improve public health. Until we have EXPERIENCED public health practice, fighting the battle for better health on the front lines, those classroom lessons remain WORDS on a PowerPoint.

For me, this week in Texas has been about SYNTHESIZING classroom knowledge and fieldwork experience into a package of SKILLS that will make me the best public health SOLDIER I can possibly be as I move forward to building a career in the CHALLENGING, yet REWARDING field that is ultimately about the PEOPLE we fight for everyday.

Lesson 3: Leave your mark.

Go. Experience. Fail. Reflect. Learn. Grow. Succeed. REPEAT.

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