Leading public health experts, elected officials and other policymakers highlighted the connection between sound policy and public health progress during APHA’s third Policy Action Institute in April.

Among the hundreds of participants at the institute — which explored health equity, COVID-19, climate change and more — were about two dozen students and early-career public health professionals who received scholarships to attend the two-day virtual event.

The scholarship recipients reported coming away from the event with a renewed sense of purpose and drive for public health, citing the in-depth discussions and enthusiasm of speakers. From racism and equity to public health infrastructure and partnerships, attendees found inspiration in the broad range of topics addressed during the event.

Kelsey Linzell, a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a public health associate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s the Public Health Associate Program, was one of those students. Read what inspired her during the two-day Policy Action Institute and check out more reports from her fellow attendees.

Finding career inspiration at APHA’s Policy Action Institute

As a first-time attendee of APHA’s Policy Action Institute, I walked away inspired for the future of public health and the policy actions that are possible. Each presentation provided a unique perspective and insight into a wide range of topics. While all were interesting, I want to highlight the first conversation on the second day.Rep. Lauren Underwood speaking

This conversation was a call to action by U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., a public health nurse. Underwood reminded all attendees of the importance of public health’s voice in local government. She defiantly stated that as public health officials, we are highly qualified to run for local health boards. It is in these positions that direct change and impact can occur. It is also in these positions — during a pandemic — that we are currently witnessing a lack of public health expertise. 

The conversation between Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director, and Underwood was a personal favorite, as it exemplified how you can impact your community at any point in your career. As an early-career public health professional, I admire Underwood’s commitment to public health at the local and federal level. 

Her work as a public servant and registered nurse propelled her to become the youngest Black woman to serve in Congress. She co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus, a group highlighting the Black maternal health crisis in the U.S., and helped implement the Affordable Care Act while serving as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She did all of this by age 34. 

Personally, if I achieve a fraction of that by age 34, I will be very happy. As someone who loves politics and hopes to work in policy, this conversation became a personal motivation for me to continue to work toward equitable health care access for all. I do not know what my specific public health career will look like, but I will use this conversation as a reminder of why I chose this field in the first place. 

I am grateful to have attended the Policy Action Institute and honored to have received a scholarship. The field of public health is very broad, and as I continue down my career path, I plan on using the information gained during the institute. Who knows? Maybe someday I will run for my local health board, too. 

— Kelsey Linzell

Linzell contributed to Public Health Newswire from The Nation's Health in a personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of CDC or the U.S. government.

Read more reports from scholarship recipients on The Nation’s Health website. To watch recordings from the Policy Action Institute, visit APHA Now.

Photo: U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood speaks during APHA's Policy Action Institute. (Photo by The Nation's Health.)