Public health workers often serve as advocates for their communities, defending health equity and the rights of all people. And fortunately, there are many ways to raise your voice in support of public health — no matter your level of advocacy expertise.

two teens at table in front of microphonesThat was the message at Saturday’s National Student Meeting in San Diego, where public health students heard from a range of speakers on how to advocate for the people’s health and engage communities in the story of public health. First up was Josh Baxt, of the San Diego Science Writers Association, who walked attendees through the hallmarks of clear, effective writing — a critical tool in communicating to lay audiences and often a key component of successful public health efforts.

“Our side has data, which is often complicated,” Baxt told the student meeting, which was hosted by APHA’s Student Assembly. “It’s hard to communicate this sometimes without making it sound like a Rube Goldberg contraption.”

An evergreen tip for public health professionals: Spell out those acronyms that nobody understands.

For a case study in student-powered public health communications, look no further than the AJPH Think Tank. This group of masters and doctoral students is responsible for choosing the cover of APHA’s American Journal of Public Health each month as well as boosting its social media presence on platforms like Instagram.

Even if social media’s not your thing, there are plenty of ways that students can use their communication skills to speak out for public health. One way is to write a letter to the editor, said AJPH Think Tank member Melanie Rogers.

“You can still disseminate public health information even if you haven’t published your own research or your own work,” she said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also been talking about the importance of communicating public health messages. In fact, you’ve probably seen a version of the illustration it uses to explain the difference between equity and equality. Using a baseball game as a metaphor, the illustration shows equality as everyone having a view of the ball game, while equity would mean that everyone enjoys a view that’s unobstructed.

It’s an imperfect depiction, but “the metaphor started a conversation,” said Dwayne Procter, senior adviser to the president and director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Equality in America is so deeply rooted in our ideology, our being,” he told attendees. “When you talk about equity and it butts up against equality, you have to have these discussions.”

Two speakers at the National Student Meeting who know the tragedy of gun violence all too well called on attendees to frame the issue as a public health crisis. Students heard from Tatiana Washington, who lost her aunt to gun violence, and Eden Hebron, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They’re on the Executive Council of Team Enough, a youth-driven group working to prevent gun violence through an intersectional lens. Both Washington and Hebron said they want to hear from a range of perspectives on how to solve the epidemic of gun violence.


“Our country doesn’t know yet what will stop gun violence (but) if we don’t come together to have a conversation about it we’re not going to know,” Hebron said.

These young activists are walking the walk, welcoming people of all viewpoints to engage with them in honest conversations about gun violence. Just a tweet can be “all it takes sometimes to end that polarization,” Washington said. She herself has invited people via Twitter to discuss gun violence.

And for anyone who thinks they’re not ready to be an advocate for public health or that their voice doesn’t matter without more experience, think about this:

“I’ve only been alive for 15 years, but I just know that I’ve never seen so many adults listen to students in the way that it has been for the past few months,” Hebron said.

Photo at top right: National Student Meeting speakers Tatiana Washington, left, and Eden Hebron encourage attendees to speak up about gun violence. Photo by Julia Haskins, courtesy The Nation’s Health