Promoting Health Through Policy and Systems Change: Public Health Students and Mentors on the Value of Policy Advocacy Experience in Academic Internships

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Abstract

Emerging professionals and new Certified Health Education Specialists often lack academic training in and actual experience in National Commission for Health Education Credentialing Area of Responsibility VII: Communicate, Promote, and Advocate for Health, Health Education/Promotion, and the Profession. For undergraduate and graduate students who have an opportunity to complete an internship or practicum experience, gaining experience in Competencies 7.2: Engage in advocacy for health and health education/promotion and 7.3: Influence policy and/or systems change to promote health and health education can have a profound impact on their career development and their ability to advocate for policies that promote health and health equity. Compelling evidence suggests that interventions that address social determinants of health such as poverty and education and those that change the context through improved policy or healthier environments have the greatest impact on public health, making it vital for emerging public health professionals to gain experience in policy advocacy and systems change. In this commentary, students and faculty from two large universities in the U.S.–Mexico border region reflect on the value of policy advocacy in academic internship/fieldwork experiences. Based on their experiences, they highly recommend that students seek out internship opportunities where they can participate in policy advocacy, and they encourage university faculty and practicum preceptors to provide more opportunities for policy advocacy in both classroom and fieldwork settings.

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