Participants meet via Zoom during the Outbreak!2020 high school public health program

Students and public health professionals meet via Zoom during the Outbreak!2020 high school public health program through the Public Health Museum in Tewksbury. (Courtesy photo)

TEWKSBURY — The Public Health Museum in Massachusetts has been bringing its Outbreak! Pub­lic Health summer program to area high school juniors and seniors since 2013. Faced with the pandemic and the realization that students could not be brought together safely in person at the Museum, program organizers quickly moved to figure out alternatives.

“Our students are the future of public health,” said museum board president Dr. Katherine Domo­to, “and this summer, of all summers, public health is more relevant than ever.”

As such, the Outbreak!2020 team decided to pivot to an all online program, offering their usual one week, in-person schedule over two weeks via Zoom sessions.

The Outbreak! program in Tewksbury has run during several serious infectious disease episodes in recent history, including the Zika virus and the Ebo­la outbreak in West Africa, but never has the information delivery been impacted by a virus which prevented the group from getting together in person.

The program is run by a team of public health officials and professionals from across Massachu­setts who work in the field. Since the program moved online, students from all over Massachusetts, and in fact all over the country were invited to participate.

Program manager Ton­ya Urquizo said, “removing the physical location provided us the chance to welcome students from everywhere.”

Founder Domoto was the former medical director of Tewksbury Hospital and Dr. Alfred DeMaria, former Medical Director of Infectious Diseases for the Commonwealth of Massa­chusetts, along with Dr. Louis Fazen, M.D., MPH, Teaching Faculty Univer­sity of Massachusetts Medi­cal School, and Nan­cy Burns, EMT and Co­ordinator of the Upper Merrimack Valley Re­serve Corps, were just some of the numerous public health professionals interacting with students.

Students participated in live Q&A sessions, flipped classrooms, and breakout rooms. Students got a virtual tour of the state epidemiology lab and met with “epis” — the epide­miolo­gists at the Hinton State Lab in Jamaica Plain — people who do the real work of “on the ground” tracking of infectious disease in the Com­monwealth.

The program is so well regarded by students that alums of the program re­turn to volunteer each summer in the role of Peer Mentors. This year, Peer Mentors ran small groups and coached the students through their final projects in the form of blog posts about a public health issue or disease they felt warranted more public attention.

Several of the peer mentors are in college pursuing public health studies and are working in hospitals and public health programs themselves.

Students who are interested in a career in public health are exposed to the breadth of options through this program. Whether focused on epidemiology, public health nursing, health equity, environmental health, emergency preparedness, global health or other areas, students have a chance to see what these careers might look like.

Program coordinator Car­rier Nagle, former Pro­gram Manager of the Ca­rino Department at the Low­ell Community Health Center, also touted the networking benefits of the program.

“Students from the Cape were working with students in Framingham, the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore. We had kids from Boston working with kids from Philadelphia — it was a unique opportunity,” Nagle said.

The program will stay online for the 2021 season as a way to continue to reach students from across New England and beyond. Outbreak! is made possible by a grant through the National Library of Medi­cine, New England Region and is free to students.

To be added to the notification list for the 2021 program, email outbreak@publichealthmuseum.org.

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