Charmaine SlaughterToday’s guest blogger is Charmaine Slaughter, MPH, an obstetrics care coordinator at Trusted Health Plan in the nation's capital. APHA sponsored her and 14 other students and early-career professionals to attend its Policy Action Institute, held Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C. Slaughter shares her impressions of the event with us.

At the end of APHA's Policy Action Institute: “All Hands on Deck: Improving Community Health,” I walked away feeling inspired and reassured that the work I do is meaningful and important. I felt motivated that I could change the world, and although that sounds far fetched, that was the feeling I had.

I met people from all over the U.S., from Connecticut to Massachusetts to North Carolina. I was amazed to see so many people travel from different places to come together for a common goal: to combat health inequities and improve the health of marginalized communities.

I was truly excited to learn I had won the scholarship to attend this meeting. As I shared with those I met, I've never won anything in my life! Well, I can't say that anymore. Winning this scholarship allowed me to share my passion for public health and how my current work contributes to improving community health.

As a young professional, I am still maneuvering the field to find my niche. After networking and talking with other professionals about their careers, I feel I want to do it all. Their careers appeared interesting and exciting. Still, we all are doing essential work, whether someone is in research or academia or medical practice.

I enjoyed listening to the panels and breakout sessions throughout the meeting. The one session that stood out to me the most was the panel on “Addiction Policy: Reducing a Leading Cause of Early Mortality.” One of the panelists, LaQuandra Nesbitt, MD, MPH, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said one thing that stuck with me: We have to look at addiction as a disease and treat it as such. We have long criminalized and penalized those suffering from addiction.

This issue hits home for me because, like so many people in this country, I have a close family member who suffers from addiction. It is hard to watch someone you love spiral in a continuous loop they can't get out of. I work with communities where I see how addiction disrupts someone's entire life. A lot of the time, I see individuals turn to illicit drugs because they can't deal with the hardships their life entails

Addressing social determinants of health and how they influence a person's life is critical and can be applied to addiction, as well as any other health issue. The environment in which we live and work plays an important role in the decisions we make.

There were some other key takeaways from this meeting that intrigued me. Bechara Choucair, MD, chief community health officer at Kaiser Permanente, said there is physical, mental and social health. Social health is an integral part of overall well-being. We’ve seen this in working with the communities we serve

Choucair gave an example of how Kaiser provided housing to numerous individuals. He met with one man, who had been homeless for several years and was later housed through this program. One would think, because he was housed, his troubles would go away, but not necessarily.

The man shared with Choucair that he was lonely; the housing wasn’t enough. It brought two questions to mind. How do we address loneliness or social isolation? What impact does this have on a person's health?

With an interest in health policy, I asked myself, how can I get involved in my community to influence health policy? I started to think, I could attend city council hearings where I live and volunteer at health advocacy groups

I am going to do my research and see where I can make a difference. I am excited to see where my career takes me, and I look forward to attending the Policy Action Institute next year!