Sarah Moreland-Russell, PhD, MPH, is an assistant research professor and associate director for the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis. Photo by Sarah Moreland-Russell

Sarah Moreland-Russell, PhD, MPH, is APHA’s Public Health Fellow in Government. Photo by Sarah Moreland-Russell

“A chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity” is how Sarah Moreland-Russell, PhD, MPH, describes her current, yearlong stint as APHA’s Public Health Fellow in Government. Each year since 2008, fellows have linked and built relationships with policymakers and worked to increase the impact of public health professionals in the legislative process.

Moreland-Russell started her fellowship in September, working as congressional staff for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). Public Health Newswire caught up with Moreland-Russell to discuss her time in Gillibrand’s office and how she hopes to bring more public health professionals into the policy process.

Q: Tell us what being selected as APHA’s Public Health Fellowship in Government Fellow means to you.

A: This fellowship is a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to work directly on federal policymaking. While challenging, this experience is incredibly rewarding in that I am afforded the opportunity to help determine policy strategies for improving public health practice and programming. This experience also provides important and valuable insight into the policy process.

Q: How is working in Sen. Gillibrand’s office mutually benefiting public health and government? And what have you been doing?

A: I am able to use my skill as an objective public health policy scientist to review current policy and determine areas for improvement and brainstorm innovative policy strategies for addressing complicated public health related issues. As a member of Senator Gillibrand’s office I have helped analyze legislation (specifically related to childhood well-being, general health, and childhood nutrition); participated in meetings with constituents, lobbyists and stakeholders; written letters to agencies within the executive branch outlining public health policy concerns regarding a variety of issues (i.e., safety of rubber turf, determination of mammography screening requirements, coverage of services through the Affordable Care Act, just to name a few); and researched new developments within the realm of my policy portfolio to determine possible policy strategies and increase the office bandwidth in particular areas. I also lend my public health expertise and research practice to help guide discussion around public health policy strategies.

Q: How do you hope to increase the visibility and impact of public health professionals in the policy arena?

A: I would like to take this experience and turn it into an opportunity for others to learn how to actively participate in the policy process. Specifically, I plan on developing coursework and practicum experiences for public health students so that can gain the knowledge and skill to engage in the development, advocacy, evaluation and implementation of public health policy.

APHA promotes “Health in All Policies,” however most practitioners do not know how to effectively inform strategies that translate evidence based practice into public health policy. Public health expertise is valued and is needed in order to ensure that health policy is effective and implemented without unintended consequences. By serving as a mentor and providing opportunities to public health students, I hope to increase the role of public health practitioners in policy making.