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The Public Health Practice Team (PHPT)

Public Health Practice Teammate and SPH Student conducting a patient intake

SPH Students Learning and Applying Public Health Skills In The Field: Public Health Practice Team

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, SPH graduate students have worked alongside public health officials, supporting efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and other public health threats in Oregon. More than 50 students have worked to date on more than 8 distinct teams, as part of the School of Public Health’s Public Health Practice Team (PHPT).

OHA & SPH Form Public Health Practice Team

In March 2020, soon after the first COVID-19 case appeared in Oregon, a meaningful new partnership was forged between the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and the Oregon Health Authority’s COVID Recovery and Response Unit (CRRU). As the pandemic escalated, OHA/CRRU recognized their need for critical workforce surge capacity—specifically, at that time, for case investigators and contact tracers—and reached out to the SPH. On an expedited timeframe, we hired 20+ graduate students as OHSU Student Workers and then placed them with CRRU. Through this process, graduate students gained opportunities for real-world professional development while doing critically-needed, concrete public health practice work.

Public health practice is recognized as one of the cornerstones of the field – the most direct contact that most public health workers will have with the public whom we serve. Despite this, there is a critical shortage in public health practice workforce (one that was exacerbated by the pandemic). Further, there have historically been barriers between the public health skills as taught in the classroom for graduate training, and the real-world practice work that government officials engage in to promote population health and equity. The PHPT program bridges these gaps. The SPH group that organized the hiring and supervision of this team has continued to grow, and more than 2 years in, the PHPT is now an ongoing inter-agency partnership and employment pipeline.

Ongoing Public Health Practice Projects

In our most recent project, we have placed student workers within two different projects within the Program Design and Evaluation Services (PDES), a research and evaluation unit within the Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Public Health Division that provides professional services to design, evaluate, and refine public health programs.

To date, we have placed SPH graduate student workers into the following roles:

  • COVID-19 Contact Tracer
  • COVID-19 Case Investigator
  • Vaccine Navigator
  • Public Health Preparedness Planner
  • Medical Chart Abstractor
  • Health Equity Data Specialist
  • Public Health Program Design Staffer
  • Emergency Medicine & Trauma Epidemiologist Specialist
  • Mixed Methods Research Analyst
  • Community Interviewer/Tester

Some of the projects on which student workers have been placed include:

  • COVID-19 Case Management: Assisted with various COVID-19 surge work including recovery calls, contact tracing, and case investigation, especially for consumers with limited access.
  • Vaccine Navigation: Assisted with needs assessment, design, and implementation of a new program to support vaccine access for Oregonians, including Oregonians with significant barriers to vaccine access.
  • COVID-Net: Assisted with medical chart abstraction for patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 to assist with a national database to better understand the clinical progression of COVID-19 among people with serious infection.
  • Health Security, Preparedness, and Response: Assisted with analysis, evaluation, planning, collaboration and operations, helping to advancing Oregon’s systems for confronting serious public health hazards and major emergencies.
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity data collection: Assisted with ensuring that important demographic information that is collected during routine public health interviews is collected in the most respectful manner possible.

The PHPT is deeply committed to the principles of Health Equity. It is at the core of all that we do, in the public health field and in our teams. Our team of student workers, faculty, and staff bring a diverse variety of lived experiences, identities, and perspectives to the public health practice work that we do.

Several of our team alum have been hired into full-time public health practice work upon graduation, for OHA, county health departments, and other organizations. The COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to society – and no field more than public health. One benefit of the pandemic has been the emergence of new, flexible, and nimble models to meet public health workforce needs, provide applied practice training, and promote the health of all Oregonians (especially the most vulnerable). We are proud of our Team’s work to date, and excited to carry this work into the future.