Public health students and early-career professionals who honed their advocacy skills during APHA’s Policy Action Institute this summer are applying those lessons in their work.

Hundreds of public health professionals attended the fifth annual institute, which featured policy experts from the federal, state and local levels and hands-on learning. The gathering included about a dozen student and early-career scholarship recipients, who shared their thoughts on the experience with The Nation’s Health.

One of those recipients was Bryce Takenaka, MPH, CPH, a PhD student at Yale School of Public Health, who said he was inspired to revisit and refresh his motivation for his research on HIV/AIDS after he attended the institute. Hearing from other youth leaders who were working on public health policy helped Takenaka develop a “fresh perspective on the concept of impact and its personal meaning,” he said.Attendees of the Policy Action Institute pose for the camera

“Learning from these inspiring youth leaders has encouraged us to reimagine the goals of public health and public policy, shifting our focus toward the needs and aspirations of our youth,” Takenaka said.

Fellow institute participant Catherine Mwai, MPH, a health educator in a rural community, said the institute helped her more deeply realize the impact that past policies have had on the health of those she works with.

“The community's resilience despite the failures of treaties, policies and implementation forced me to stare at the way policy was implemented and how that implementation impacted the day-to-day systems and structures within the community I worked,” she said. “I quickly realized that all roads lead back to policy.”

Claudia Pacheco, MPH, coordinator of health programs at the Hospital Association of Southern California, said the institute helped her appreciate the importance of a communal approach to public health.

“I’ve always believed that we do not need to go too far out to find solutions to public health crises,” Pacheco said. “Organizations tackling health inequities must tap into community members' invaluable expertise and lived experiences by fostering authentic partnerships and building trusting relationships.”

Janell Ross, MPH, government programs coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health, said she left the summer institute “with a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of policy and its impact on society.”

“Moving forward, I plan to leverage this newfound knowledge by engaging with local organizations and community leaders, advocating for evidence-based policies, and collaborating with like-minded individuals to drive meaningful change,” Ross said.

APHA is making plans for its 2024 APHA Policy Action Institute in Washington, D.C.

For more information and to access recordings from the event, visit

Photo caption: Participants in APHA's summer Policy Action Institute are using what they learned in their work. Photo courtesy Gayatri Malhotra.