Harvard students with the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps have been working to support local health agencies in advancing health equity and improving public health since March 2020.
With more than 900 student, alumni, and expert volunteers from around 140 communities across Massachusetts, the APHVC is the first program developed by the Academic Health Department Consortium — a partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and eight local public health schools and organizations, including Harvard’s, formed in 2019.
In an April interview, Harvard School of Public Health Dean Michelle A. Williams lauded the importance of Harvard students and faculty already being involved in the Consortium prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“That is a remarkable illustration of how prescient our students and faculty were in partnering with the state health department before Covid — leveraging that partnership during a time of great need,” Williams said.
According to Antonia Blinn, the director of performance management and quality improvement at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health who co-leads the APHVC, the Consortium formed the volunteer corps in response to the critical need for support for local public health departments when the pandemic first hit.
“It was the really critical time when our local public health [agencies] were really exhausted, and just going and going and going and kind of like the Energizer Bunny,” she said. “And so the volunteers really provided some reprieve in a moment that they really needed it.”
Amy E. Bantham, who led the APHVC teams for Avon and Somerville before graduating with her doctorate from HSPH in 2020, said the volunteer program’s work was a “huge undertaking,” particularly during the start of the pandemic. Team volunteers assisted with contact tracing and made frequent phone calls to residents explaining quarantine guidelines and providing Covid-19 test results.
HSPH student Julia A. Healey, a volunteer for APHVC’s Central Communication Team since October, said she has been working on creating social media graphics and flyers to combat misinformation about the coronavirus and available vaccines.
She also noted that the APHVC has allowed her to form unique connections in the midst of a remote year at Harvard.
“It’s been really a great opportunity with having so many other schools involved and meeting other students in the public health field who have common interests as me,” she said. “It’s really been helpful in this past year, given how hard it is to meet new people and network within a completely virtual environment.”
Blinn added that APHVC has been not only a great learning opportunity for students, but also fostered a “pipeline of new folks” excited and knowledgeable about local public health issues.
“The formation of this group will outlive Covid,” she added.
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