UF closes the book on another successful Summer Health Professions Education Program

By Anne Riker Garlington and Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow

Public Health participants.
Summer Health Professions Education Program participants in the public health pathway. Photos by Lindsay Gamble, Jesse Jones and Suzy Rodriguez.

The University of Florida health colleges hosted dozens of undergraduate students from across the country for this year’s Summer Health Professions Education Program, or SHPEP.

The free, six-week program is focused on improving access to career information and resources as well as strengthening academic proficiency and career development of students who are underrepresented in the health professions. The goal is to prepare them for a successful application and matriculation to health professions schools.

SHPEP participants engage as a group in a number of academic enrichment, professional development, panel discussions and other activities, as well as specialized content based on their selected career pathway.

At the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, faculty, staff and students offered several activities and demonstrations for SHPEP participants in the public health pathway. For example, Heather Stark, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical associate professor in the department of epidemiology, led an activity focused on water’s role in community health.

Students learning safe water tools
Participants sampled water in the creek behind the HPNP Complex.

Her lesson challenged participants to put classroom learning into practice. With the aim of showcasing public health approaches to safe water access in rural communities in low-income countries, SHPEP participants were tasked with collecting, conserving and transporting water from a nearby creek.

“An interactive activity like the water demonstration keeps me accountable and makes me ask questions that deepen learning,” said Natalie Velazquez, a participant from Pomona College.

At the end of the activity, participants took samples to measure the water’s quality and engaged in a discussion about the implications of unsafe drinking water on individual and community health.

“We learned so much from this simulation and collecting water,” said Simone Minor, a participant from the University of Virginia. “It’s not just a lecture and a test. SHPEP does a good job of showing you there’s way more than that (to learning).”

Hands-on enrichment activities and innovative learning experiences are a staple of the SHPEP curriculum at UF.

Daniel Acosta, a PHHP doctoral student in public health, One Health concentration, led a fictional country simulation for SHPEP participants that demonstrated how geopolitical factors can impact public and community health.

Innovative learning experiences
In a simulation of a fictional country experiencing a public health crisis, participants needed to make decisions about how to allocate resources.

Grouped into teams, SHPEP participants served as state representatives, challenged with pitching requests to their fictional country’s central government for resources and funds. Their decisions and proposals directly impacted not only their state’s health, but also the overall health and stability of their country. Through both the activity and following discussion, SHPEP participants explored the complex geopolitical relationship between public health, policy implementation, budgeting and allocation of resources on a national scale.

At the end of their time on UF’s campus, participants culminated their experience with a pining ceremony. This was a joyful celebration of hard-earned accomplishment, filled with anticipation of potential for the future. Many students expressed gratitude to the faculty and staff, who worked tirelessly to give constructive feedback and ensure a positive learning experience.

“The SHPEP program gave us a point of view on health we will continue to follow into the future,” said Minor, a participant in the public health pathway.

Fabrienne Foster, a participant in the medicine pathway, noted a common thread among her fellow participants.

“I learned no matter where we’ve come from and how we are different, we are all destined for greatness,” she said.

In her closing remarks, Lakesha Butler, Pharm.D., UF Health associate vice president for inclusion, diversity and health equity and chief diversity officer, reminded the students of a quote from Nelson Mandela: “Vision with action can change the world.”

students putting on white coats