Pivoting Online with the Public Health Workforce

Managing a Virtual Public Health Conference

As one of 10 HRSA-funded Regional Public Health Training Centers in the country, the New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC) was well positioned to serve the public health workforce when the COVID-19 pandemic changed our region and our world. Starting in March 2020, our small and mighty staff played a crucial role outside their normal operations by supporting community-based partners in whatever way our educational technology skills allowed. Beyond online learning, their biggest need? “Help us find a way to host virtual public health conferences!” New England states’ yearly public health association conferences are a valuable space for the workforce to share ideas, research, and the future of the field. During such a historic year in public health, the NEPHTC team wanted to make sure that our partners had a platform for their respective networks to come together.

The New England Public Health Training Center (NEPHTC), part of Lifelong Learning at BUSPH, seeks to increase the number of people in the public health workforce, enhance the quality of the workforce, and improve the ability of the workforce to meet national, state, and regional health care needs

Meeting the needs of our Public Health Associations

Over the months of September and October, NEPHTC’s Andree Entezari and Karla Todd became well versed in a browser-based conference app in order to train conference volunteers diligently for the November conference. Though there were some nervous technology moments, the team pulled it off and the evaluation results from participants were terrific!

Working in various ways to support our Public Health Associations in New England, our team ensured their annual public health conferences continued to be special and foster an environment of kinship for the workforce.

One of NEPTHC’s biggest roles this year was providing complete technical platform support for the Connecticut Public Health Associations Annual (CPHA) Conference, which had an impressive design of keynotes, concurrent sessions, networking, and both recorded and live student poster sessions.

The 2020 CPHA Virtual Conference was a success because of the NEPHTC. Their knowledge of virtual platforms, willingness to work with our speakers and volunteers, and dedication to creating an exceptional experience was beyond our grandest expectations.

Jonathan Noel, Immediate Past President of the Connecticut Public Health Association and Conference Chair

The NEPHTC team also was able to provide additional financial support to our partners at the Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont Public Health Associations. With the Maine Public Health Association and our partners at University of New England, the team reviewed evaluation results and amplified some of the conference’s best recordings to the broader workforce.

NEPHTC’s success is always about our partnerships. Our partners are the ones who know their state leaders, the workforce and the state and local health priorities.

Karla Todd, Senior Program Manager, Training Specialist

Designing a Great Experience for Students

Student poster sessions are a significant component of public health conferences every year and one which the NEPHTC staff did not want participants of the CPHA to miss out on this year. These sessions always bring an invaluable experience of interaction and networking between the workforce and the future of public health. That is why NEPHTC created opportunities with conference platforms for students to present their posters with attendees at the conference.

For 1-hour each day, attendees jumped in and out of student poster session rooms to learn more about relevant fieldwork and research projects in various areas of public health.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions, network with professionals, and share their research findings to the broader public health community in a way that upheld the importance these poster sessions have at conferences each year.

I was so impressed that the future of the public health workforce is coming into the profession with bold ideas and unafraid of the challenges that need to be solved. They are motivated, competent, and ready. It was really rewarding to provide these students the opportunity to share their posters interactively within the conference platform.

Andree Entezari, Program Coordinator

While the virtual conference platform doesn’t replace the experience of being able to present physically in front of someone, NEPHTC aimed to do the next best thing by making the poster sessions dynamic and interactive.

Conclusion

NEPHTC consistently strives to meet the needs of their public health associations, and while this year looked a lot different, our commitment to our partners didn’t bend. We’re reliant on the partnership and success of our students which is why we worked so hard to make these events as successful as they could be. Our partnerships are strong because we have invested many years building relationships to make it possible to work together in the face of adversity.

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