September marks the eleventh annual National Preparedness Month, which is a time for individuals, families, and businesses to think about how to stay informed and plan for potential emergency situations. ASPPH will be highlighting preparedness initiatives each week throughout the month. This week we are highlighting an article and photo from Texas A&M.
For more information on National Preparedness Month, check out the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response’s National Preparedness Month Webpage.
Texas A&M EpiAssist Volunteers Improve Preparedness and Response
EpiAssist is a new service-learning program developed at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health in January 2015 created by Dr. Jennifer Horney, associate professor.
EpiAssist gives enrolled students the opportunity to work with local, regional, and state public health staff on applied public health projects. Students gain hands-on experience, while community partners benefit from the surge capacity provided by students to help address unmet needs. Students can also provide needed skills for certain projects, including speaking other languages and the ability to work with specialized computer software like EpiInfo.
Since January, Texas A&M students have had the opportunity to work on 16 activities with the Department of State Health Services in Austin, Texas, as well as with their Region seven office in Temple, Texas, and seven local health departments. Activities have included assisting with investigating outbreaks of Shigella and Cyclospora, as well as participating in several Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) surveys. CASPERs were used to assess Texas resident preparedness for hurricane season, study the long-term health impacts of a wildfire on local residents, and assess damages following a major flood.
Numerous reports by national groups such as the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers and the National Association of County and City Health Officials continue to describe the current shortage and uncertain future of the public health workforce. Severe shortages in certain public health concentrations, including epidemiology, continue in most states, including Texas.
Since its inception, EpiAssist student volunteers have completed more than 900 hours of volunteer service to health departments, as well as benefited from more than 250 hours of training for their future as members of the public health workforce.