Piesyk ’22 Focuses on Improving Public Health Through Community Engagement

Patrick Piesyk ’22 — First off, I would like to thank the Global Health Initiative, Dr. Milligan, and Jill Rogers for providing this wonderful opportunity. This summer, I was fortunate enough to intern for the St. Joseph County Health Department in South Bend, Indiana. For the duration of my internship at the health department, I was also able to participate in a summer program at the Indiana University South Bend School of Medicine. This summer program focused on community health and the social determinants of health. Dr. Mark Fox, the Deputy Health Officer at the health department and Dean of the IUSB School of Medicine, organized and taught the program alongside Dr. Joe Kotva, who is a professor at the IUSB School of Medicine.  

In addition to the program, I was able to gain clinical experience by volunteering at the Saint Joseph Health System Family Medicine Center. During my internship at the health department, I have experienced a variety of different things. For my major project, I researched ways to combat obesity while accounting for the social determinants of health such as education, income, food access, transportation, neighborhood, and healthcare. After researching and gaining knowledge from the community health summer program, I wrote a paper that included the obesity statistics for St. Joseph County and the nation, what St. Joseph County is currently doing to reduce obesity, and ways to improve these current strategies. Also, I included ways that other states and organizations across the country have had success in combatting obesity. Overall, I learned that government funding, policy changes such as an increased tax on sugary beverages, and donations are successful ways to combat obesity while considering the social determinants of health.

Along with my research, the majority of my internship has included attending elementary school camps. For the elementary school camps, I would assist in developing daily lesson plans and teaching these lessons. Since I interned for the public health education sector of the health department, our education primarily focused on nutrition, physical activity, mental health, sun and water safety, etc. For a typical lesson of forty-five minutes, we would give a brief presentation that was followed with interactive activities that emphasized the importance of the daily lesson. The summer camps we attended were free, so it was truly a great experience offering health education to students of a lower socioeconomic class.

Additionally, I also participated in a community garden camp for a couple of weeks. At one of the local community gardens, they offer a free children’s camp where they teach the students how to garden fruits and vegetables. At this camp, we would prepare a healthy snack such as watermelon slices, banana wraps, vegetable wraps, and would teach the children about the nutritional value and health benefits from eating these snacks. Every Wednesday afternoon, I attended a community health program, where I learned about the social determinants of health. On July 10th, we traveled to Chicago to see their efforts at improving the public health of the community. On the south side of town, we visited an urban garden which ultimately increased access to healthier food in an urban setting. Overall, throughout this program, I learned that poverty and the social determinants of health are all interconnected to an individual’s health. I also learned that someone’s environment can play a more impactful role in their health than their genetics.

Each Friday during my internship, I volunteered at the Family Medicine Center attached to the St. Joseph Hospital. My responsibilities included sanitizing exam rooms, stocking exam rooms with materials, and even rooming patients to take their vitals. I went through a one-day training for taking vitals such as temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate. Additionally, I shadowed nurses and doctors while volunteering at the clinic. I am especially grateful for this clinical experience due to my goal of becoming a physician’s assistance or pediatrician. Again, I would like to thank the Global Health Initiative, Dr. Milligan, and Jill Rogers for providing this internship opportunity this summer!

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