Students and global health experts share their experiences working with communities.

Category: Abby

Communication, communication, communication

My practicum with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina was to take place over 10 weeks, the last of which began on August 2nd. I expected to enjoy my time with NARAL NC, but my practicum has surpassed my anticipations dramatically.

I believe my good experience centers around the way the staff treats me. They speak to me as an equal, not just as a student who needs supervision. While my preceptor helped me identify a few deliverables that I could work on at the beginning of my practicum, she was flexible and supportive when our goals shifted throughout the summer, allowing me to amend my deliverables as needed.

My last deliverable has been my favorite by far. In short, I have been working on a report on a specific public health problem that is meant to be consumed by the public. I started this project by receiving an abundance of raw data that needed to be analyzed, which allowed me to practice my STATA skills. I was able to take some of that raw data and turn it into an ArcGIS map, which I believe will be a valuable addition to the report. Lastly, I’ve been able to practice my graphic design skills by designing the layout and format of the report as I go.

However, my favorite part of this project has been the writing aspect. The MPH program typically requires us to write papers and such in scientific or academic voices, which certainly aligns with the audience they’re meant for. The NARAL NC report, on the other hand, is being created for a non-scientific audience, which has been an amazing challenge for me and my writing skills. I have enjoyed this type of writing more than I expected to. The unique combination of abilities it requires has exercised so many different tools from my toolbox, from data translation and choosing relevant statistics to creative writing and narrative formatting.

This report has really driven home the idea that our job as public health professionals is not just to partake in research and the scientific process, but to make sure our findings are accessible to the world. COVID has been a great example of this, especially now with the concerning Delta variant. The research is somewhat unclear, and while that is to be expected this early in the process, I do not feel that it has been communicated to the world in an organized manner. This, plus government mandates and the loss of progress on “opening back up” adds to confusion and alarm. I’m sure we would agree that the United States could have done many things differently throughout this pandemic, but communication would be towards the top of the list in my opinion.

While my practicum is wrapping up and COVID is picking back up, I will always remember the lessons learned at NARAL Pro-Choice NC.

Stay safe,

Abby

Hitting the ground running

My loyal coworker, Elouise the cat, who clearly needs caffeine as much as I do.

My loyal coworker, Elouise, who clearly needs caffeine as much as I do.

If the last year has taught me anything, it is that in-person work and education can be exhausting. I didn’t notice how mentally, physically, and socially drained I was until I was allowed to take a metaphorical breath and work from home for a year. Historically, neurodiverse people have been forced to conform to a neurotypical world that was not designed with them in mind. COVID has certainly brought its own challenges and discomfort, but it has also given us a glimpse of how the world can be made more accessible.

I consider myself to be one of the many people that has benefited from this work paradigm shift. Some of the issues that arise for me in an in-person work environment have been avoided entirely this past year, saving me a significant amount of mental and emotional energy that could then be channeled into something more productive. I am lucky to be completing my practicum with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a leader in reproductive rights that I have long admired. I was able to hit the ground running on my first day, and my productivity and dedication are both well ahead of where they may be if the work had been in-person.

Despite only being a few weeks into my practicum, I have already been able to utilize many of my different skills, such as GIS, design, systems thinking, and systematic searches. My preceptor is an incredible supervisor and has been so supportive with helping me prioritize my academic and professional interests. I believe that the combination of a great preceptor, a multi-faceted organization, and the remote work setting has allowed me the flexibility to create my own path and utilize my strengths for the best possible practicum experience.

You may be saying to yourself, “but, Abby, don’t you think you would’ve had all those things if you’d been working in-person?” My answer would be yes; I do not think that the quality of the organization or the leadership skills of my preceptor would magically take a hit from returning to the office. What would take a hit, however, would be my own personal comfort and mental capacity for change. By avoiding work in a shared office setting, I also avoid the issue of adjusting to new sensory stimuli and the challenge of adapting to a new workplace social scene.

I am aware that my experience may not be typical (even amongst neurodiverse folks), and I recognize the fact that many of my classmates prefer the in-person setting. However, that is exactly why I believe it is important to avoid putting a monolithic description on remote work. People with disabilities have been deterred from traditional work settings for decades, with companies citing communication issues and fairness concerns as reasons for rebuffing work-from-home requests and office accommodations. COVID forced many companies to make adjustments for their entire staff quite quickly, often proving what their employees with disabilities have been saying for years: alternative workspaces and communication tools can be effective if we give them the chance. As the world begins to return to normal, I hope we can remember that Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, but the many types of fatigue afflicting people with disabilities are just as valid.

Cheers to diverse work settings for diverse people.

Abby