By Sara Suisman, MPH and Marissa Byers

Indiana’s trailblazing Governor’s Public Health Commission, convened 2021-2022, left our state with stark realizations about our public health system, along with actionable recommendations. We know in the wake of COVID-19 that supporting the statewide public health workforce is essential and time-sensitive. Weak public health infrastructure, a lack of resources, and minimal staffing capacity – already issues in Indiana – have been exacerbated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and co-occurring issues like burnout in the workforce. An investment in the public health workforce pipeline is needed, and this can be accomplished through meaningful engagement with public health students across the state of Indiana. The Indiana Public Health Association (IPHA) is taking the initiative to invest in students early in their public health careers, drawing more students into the field and equipping them to be successful when they enter the workforce.

IPHA is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association, and our mission is to build capacity among public health professionals and partners to achieve health equity and well-being for all across the state of Indiana. In addition, we aim to be a robust partner, connector, and resource for advancing public health statewide. 

According to the Community Tool Box (2022), an advisory group (or board, council, or committee) serves to “guide [an] organization or initiative through its members’ knowledge of the community and the issue.” Through the advisory group format, members provide their perspective, insight, and expertise regarding an issue, as well as inform the direction of a broader initiative. Member involvement also creates increased capacity to do the work, particularly in a way that considers unique stakeholder needs.  A student advisory group typically serves as a liaison between a larger student body and an organization’s leadership, with the purpose of voicing and advocating for student needs. The benefit here is clear – if an organization is strategizing to more meaningfully engage and serve students, then students should be involved in those conversations and broader efforts. 

Following leadership and funding shifts in IPHA’s recent past, the organization underwent a strategic planning process. In alignment with these efforts, IPHA began planning for the formation of a Student Advisory Group, which the organization envisions as a key connector between Indiana public health students and IPHA leadership. Not only does this approach allow students to have a voice and develop leadership skills, it also accomplishes the goal of facilitating meaningful student engagement and development opportunities with IPHA.

Since its inception in April 2022, the IPHA Student Advisory Group has done tremendous work in establishing the group’s purpose, goals, and role within the larger organization, as well as implementing projects that will create more value for student stakeholders of IPHA. Student members of the inaugural cohort are kick-starting projects such as networking opportunities via an IPHA LinkedIn group and student-specific trainings. Additional short-term benefits of the Student Advisory Group include:

  • Increased student involvement with IPHA
  • Increased organizational capacity to address student needs
  • Strengthened academic partnerships

IPHA anticipates that this investment in our student stakeholders will result in a more engaged and well-equipped future public health workforce. As students enter an ever-changing field, it is of utmost importance that we support, encourage, and prepare them with the tools they need to be successful. Initiatives like a student advisory group provide short-term opportunities for growth, while strengthening our state’s public health infrastructure for long-term gain.

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