How Interdisciplinary Teams Can Tackle Public Health Challenges

Before my Fellowship position at BEMPU, my public health experiences had occurred in more “typical” settings. I’d held internships at the state health department in Wisconsin and at the Public Health Foundation of India, where I worked mostly with individuals with public health or clinical degrees. In my role with AmeriCorps after college, I was surrounded by doctors, nurses and other clinical staff as I worked with patients on health education regarding specific risk factors. Most of my classmates and former colleagues working in public health have undergraduate or masters degrees in public health, and I saw the path to working in public health as largely defined by this specific type of background or degree program.

From my first few weeks at BEMPU, my notion of what a career in public health looked like was radically shaken up. The BEMPU team includes engineers, designers, and finance and production specialists in addition to people with public health-specific backgrounds. On the various projects I’ve worked on, including launching clinical studies through the BEMPU research award, working on clinical study publication, writing grant applications, managing social media, and more, I’ve engaged with colleagues who work on all sides of the company.

This has offered me perspective on just how diverse and interdisciplinary the public work we’re doing at BEMPU, all centered around improving maternal and child health, really is.

I’ve also observed that it has been absolutely necessary, for my projects to be effective, to work with individuals from every team. To design a clinical protocol for a study on ApneBoot, one of BEMPU’s products that works to detect and resolve neonatal apneas, I met with the engineering team to better understand how the device works, and what modifications can be made for the purposes of a study. I worked extensively with our clinical advisor, a neonatologist, to ensure the study was designed appropriately to be able to obtain clinically relevant information. I spoke with our on-the-ground research coordinator, who best understands the day-to-day workings of the study hospital and what is feasible in that particular setting with the available resources.

I reviewed the draft with my colleagues on the public health team, who were able to provide suggestions and input based on their own experiences with clinical research. To make sure there was an ApneBoot prototype ready to bring to the hospital when meeting with the study investigator about the proposal, I coordinated with members of BEMPU’s production team. Through this project and others I’ve worked on at BEMPU, I’ve witnessed how essential inputs from team members with different backgrounds and expertise are in making public health interventions as effective as possible.

The BEMPU team.

For an organization like BEMPU, where creative minds are working every day to come up with ways to address to the maternal and child health challenges that exist in India and other low- and middle-income countries, having a well-rounded, interdisciplinary team is crucial for understanding all aspects of a problem and how to develop a solution.

My conversations with members of BEMPU’s engineering, design, and production teams—fields I previously wouldn’t have typically seen as particularly related to public health—have offered some of the most meaningful insight I’ve gained this year on India’s public health challenges and how a wide range of work can contribute to solving them. Understanding more about these fields has been exciting for me, as I hadn’t previously been exposed much to engineering, design, and production.

Seeing the value of interdisciplinary work in public health has been one of my most important takeaways from this year, and I will strive to continue to approach public health through an interdisciplinary lens moving forward.

Abby graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2016 with a double major in Biology and Gender and Women’s Studies and a Certificate in Global Health. As a student, she worked as a research assistant on projects examining gendered causes of health disparities, volunteered as a health coach at a community health center, and worked with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to develop a policy to address physician shortages in rural areas of the state. She has spent the last year as a Maternal Child Health Coordinator with the National Health Corps Pittsburgh, an AmeriCorps program, working with high-risk women and families to provide health education and case management services. In summer 2016, she completed a research internship with the Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, where she worked on a project studying treatment for anemia in pregnancy. She is excited to be returning to India to work on a public health project with Bempu!

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