The picture of health: Students see, help with public health needs in Detroit

October 12, 2015

College of Education, Health, and Human Services students use summer internships to help Detroit citizens lead healthier lives.

Gadah Sharif assists Cheryl Porter, a patient navigator at Authority Health. Sharif competed an internship at Authority Health this past summer.

Connecting Detroit residents to wellness services. Sharing affordable insurance options with someone in need. Helping families learn about nutritious food choices.

Several College of Education, Health, and Human Services students spent their summer helping Detroit citizens lead healthier lives by doing internships at public health organizations—including Karly Koos at Healthy Detroit and Gadah Sharif at Authority Health, which was formerly known as Detroit Wayne County Health Authority.

Julie Roddy, chair of UM-Dearborn’s Department of Health and Human Services, said internships are important because they connect students to work experience—and, even more importantly, to the people.

“There is a serious need in our community when it comes to public health, and our students are ready to help,” Roddy said.

Sharif, a junior majoring in health policy studies, said she was interested in working in the health field starting at a young age. As a child, Sharif went to her mother’s doctor appointments because she wanted to be by her side.

“When I went with my mom, I’d always ask the doctor so many questions,” she said. “Then my curiosity turned into something more. I knew I wanted to work in health.”

Today Sharif—who now works in that doctor’s office—wants to be by the side of those in need. And that’s why she spent her summer as an intern at Authority Health.

“I love my job, but I felt a need to find out what’s going on in a patient’s life beyond the office setting. Yes, it’s annoying when someone has a no show, but there might be a reason for that—like they don’t have transportation of their own or missed the bus,” she said. “ I wanted to find a way to help those people.” Authority Health helped me realize that social determinants such as lack of transportation, public safety and housing can have a great impact on one’s health outcome.”

During her internship, Sharif did a comparative community health needs assessment of Detroit-area hospitals and analyzed transportation and food needs of the people being served by Wayne County public health offices, local nonprofit organizations and more.

“I want to do what I can to help the people of Detroit,” she said. “The city has poor health outcomes, and at Authority Health they help those in need work around those social determinants to improve one’s health outcome within the community.”

Koos, a senior majoring in public health, wants to improve health outcomes for Detroit residents too.

Through her internship with Healthy Detroit, she helped implement the Detroit Health Park initiative, did outreach to let residents know about Healthy Detroit Days and worked on the Healthy Detroit Passport app, which allows residents to track their participation in these events and gave them incentives to stay active.

She also worked with community members on transforming a vacant East Indian Village lot into an outdoor neighborhood fitness park.

“Many Detroit neighborhoods lack access to healthcare, healthy food options and healthy-built environments, like parks,” Koos said. “Interning with Healthy Detroit gave me a better idea of the big picture of public health than I would have gotten anywhere else in the country. The problems in Detroit are not unique to Detroit, but the vast opportunities for public health reform the region might have never seen before are.”

And those opportunities—and the personal interactions—are what gets both Koos and Sharif excited about their work.

Sharif, with her internship completed, now volunteers at Authority Health on Fridays. She’s learning the insurance enrollment and navigation process for lower-income residents. And even one success makes it all worth it.

"One week I’ll be assisting on a case enrollment for a resident, and the next week I’ll find out that the person’s case was approved. When that happens, it makes my day,” she said. “You actually feel like your making a difference and that’s an amazing feeling."

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