APHA is committed to strengthening the public health profession. We host a Public Health CareerMart for job seekers and employers, we offer continuing education — and we also get to work with the next generation of public health workers through our internships and fellowships program.

Ashley Smallwood is a future leader in public health. Smallwood, a graduating senior at Delaware State University majoring in Public and Allied Health Sciences, interned with APHA’s Center for Professional Development and Partnerships this spring. Her work in injury and violence prevention across the lifespan not only shed light on an often-ignored health issue, but inspired her to pursue a career in youth-focused public health. Public Health Newswire talked to Smallwood about her time at APHA.

Delaware State University senior Ashley Smallwood interned with APHA’s Center for Professional Development and Partnerships this spring.  Photo by Ashley Smallwood

Delaware State University senior Ashley Smallwood interned with APHA’s Center for Professional Development and Partnerships this spring. Photo by Ashley Smallwood

Q: Tell us about your work at APHA this spring?

A:  I studied violence and injury across the lifespan, which covered a variety of topics: from drowning all the way to falls with elderly adults. I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge here; I attended a STRYVE Action Council meeting on youth violence and a Safe States Alliance meeting. I also went to Atlanta to visit CDC and watch an Emory University suicide prevention panel, which was a great opportunity.

Suicide is a public health issue that doesn’t get enough attention. It gets attention — when it happens. But it should be more of an issue talked about from a prevention perspective. Emory has a webpage dedicated to suicide prevention and victims. I feel that most college campuses should do something similar.

Q: You’ve dedicated much of your research at APHA to drowning prevention. What have you found?

A: What’s really interesting to me was that APHA does not have a policy statement on drowning. It has one for everything except drowning. So to do my work I pulled policy statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has some strong safety tips.

Drowning is a prominent public health issue. It’s the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 in the U.S. and worldwide it’s the fourth leading cause of death for children 5-14. The financial burden on the U.S. from (coastal) drowning is $273 million. CDC has found that swimming lessons can decrease the risk of drowning by 88%. There are also great disparities among drowning victims. A lot of African-American children never get lessons because they don’t have access to swimming pools. Overall the research was interesting but also not up-to-date; the most recent information is from 2005-2009, which shows that over 3,500 people drown per year. Of course, the rates are higher in states bordered by large bodies of water or states with a high amount of swimming pools. I also found out that like flotation devices are not designed to keep swimmers safe (from drowning), because they can deflate.

And drowning is preventable. There’s nothing worse than having a high burden of preventable deaths.

I would love to help to help APHA develop a policy statement on drowning prevention, with as much research as I’ve done over the last three months. I’ve read everything that’s out there about drowning, but it needs to be talked about more often.

Q: After graduation, would you like to work in public health?

A: Absolutely! I actually found what I am interested in at APHA, which I didn’t expect. It took me the longest of times to figure out what I wanted to do in the health field.

But I now know I want to interact with youth to change lives. We know that the best method of prevention is done by starting early. I want to jump right in with youth. They’re our future. I want to change lives and improve their quality of lives.