East Tennessee Student Interns Organize Community Assessment

East Tennessee Student Interns Organize Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response

Yang Chen and Robert Moore, two MPH students at ETSU, as part of their internship with  the Northeast Regional Health Office of the Tennessee Department of Health,  coordinated an emergency preparedness exercise designed to assess the ability of the health department to rapidly gather information following a disaster.  The Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tool-kit that "can be used by public health practitioners and emergency management officials to determine the health status and basic needs of the affected community in a quick and low-cost manner."

With oversight from David Kirschke, MD, Medical Director of the Northeast Regional Health Office, and from Donna Robbins, DrPH, regional epidemiologist, the two students coordinated the survey in Hawkins County, a largely rural county in the Appalachian region of northeast Tennessee.

Dr. Kirschke, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, identified five objectives of the exercise:

  1. To assess the abilities of the regional and local health agencies to make rapid community assessments using CASPER methodology.
  2. To collect data on nutrition and physical activity in Hawkins county in order to direct future health department primary prevention initiatives.
  3. To assess and improve the capacity to use local volunteers, including East Tennessee State University public health students.
  4. To exercise certain functions of public health emergency response, including use of the incident command systems.
  5. To assess the use of tablet computers for rapid data collection in a field setting.

Other students from the College of Public Health who participated included DrPH students Colleen Scott,  Janice Greene, and Christian Williams, and  MPH students Sarah Burgoyne, Rachel Dinsmore, David Kioko, and Taylor McKeehan.

According to Dr Kirschke, "We couldn't have done this without the voluntary support of ETSU students and the leadership and skills of our ETSU interns.  This exercise builds on a long-standing and close collaboration between the health department and the college of public health."

Dean Randy Wykoff said "I have tremendous respect for the work done by our regional public health officials.  I am deeply appreciative of Dr. Kirschke's and Dr. Robbins' continued efforts to provide our students with the real-world experiences necessary to excel in the workplace.  Between teaching our Infectious Disease Epidemiology class, mentoring our interns during their field placements, and including our students in real world exercises like CASPER, I think that they represent the very best example of an academic-practice partnership, and are an essential part of our commitment to providing our students hands-on practical experiences."