Alicia is a 2nd year Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Washington, Seattle. She holds a degree in Food and Nutritional Sciences from Seattle Pacific University and completed her dietetic internship at Golden Gate Dietetic Internship. She worked in outpatient care and nutrition research as a registered dietitian before returning to school. Her interests include the intersection between social determinants of health and the public sector, and their impact on women’s health and nutrition.
Highlights of the MCH Nutrition Conference 2019 in Washington, DC
The MCH Nutrition Conference was a fortuitous opportunity to connect faces to many names and voices I had seen in e-mails and heard on Zoom calls. Many I had met at the Nutrition Leadership Network Conference in February (a networking conference of the MCH grantees and trainees in 13 Western states). However, this weekend in Washington D.C. had a different purpose. In addition to meeting each other and giving updates of our programs, trainees participated in cultural competency and policy trainings.
We started our day with updates on a federal, regional, state and program updates. In short:
- Federal: Update and Q&A with Michael Warren and Lauren Raskin Ramos from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB).
- Regional: Obesity Enhancements led by University of Minnesota (Jamie Stang) and University of California, Los Angeles (Leslie Cunningham-Sabo)
- Regional Leadership Programs
- Emerging New Leaders in PH Nutrition
- Western MCH Nutrition Leadership Network
- Association of State Public Health Nutritionists: Children’s Healthy Weight Coalition
- Trainee Peer Mentoring Network Update
Thoughts on Cultural Competency: Reflection on a Training from Tawara Goode
After lunch, we received valuable training from Tawara Goode, MA director of Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competence. Her training on cultural competency noted the multiple dimensions of culture that “affects how we work, parent, love, marry, understand health, mental health, wellness, illness, disability and end of life.” As public health practitioners and professionals we are responsible for not only understanding how organizational cultural affects us, but also doing the work to recognize and seek understanding of the multiple cultural identities of the persons and populations we serve. Further, these individuals and populations interact with multiple systems at once. The convergence of multiple cultural contexts is illustrated below.
I asked Dr. Goode about the connection between cultural competency and equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which I hear more often now than the former. (UW Seattle has a clear EDI initiative and the School of Public Health recently created.) She distinguished that they are acutely different. EDI, when it is clearly and specifically defined, aim to address external factors that negatively influence the diversity of individuals and/or group culture.
I interpreted this to mean that cultural competency is the internal, personal work this is required of us in order to truly address the systemic barriers to equity, diversity and inclusion. Future food for my personal thought: How can I bring cultural competency to the spaces I learn and work in, which are primarily focused on systemic and institutional EDI?
Policy Training: A Vital Component to the Nutrition Profession
Currently, (as of March 2019) only two dietitians work on The Hill, as stated by Alison Hard, MS, RDN, staffer of the House Labor and Education Committee. In the photo above, Ms. Hard (right) speaks with Nancy Chapman, MPH, RDN, who has years of experience advocating for nutrition policy in Washington. Ms. Chapman organized four speakers to give us a glimpse of nutrition policy in the non-profit, immigration policy, and federal government contexts:
- Jen Holcomb, US Advocacy and Outreach Manager for 1,000 Days
- Renato R. Rocha, policy analyst for The Center for Law and Social Policy
- Alison Hard, MS, RD, House Labor and Education Committee
- Robert Rosado, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
This was probably my favorite part of our two-day conference, mainly because I have had the least exposure to policy. Renato Rocha discussed how public comments can impact rulings on policy. Specifically, when it was proposed to add WIC to public charge, CLASP rallied several organizations and thousands of public comments to delay the public charge ruling. We discussed how public health practitioners and researchers can best contribute to public comments. Both Renato and Jen agreed a combination of personal stories from the field of how rulings can directly affect (or have already affected) individuals, families and communities in addition to compelling data are most effective.
We learned from Ms. Hard and Mr. Rosado about their roles and the process of writing and passing the Farm Bill as well as their role in education Congresswomen and Congressmen about it. Because so many Congress members are freshman, which requires a substantial amount of their time to educate them and their staffers in order to make informed decisions about the Farm Bill. Following, after a training on how to speak with our Representatives, we went to our respective state Congress members.
Congresswoman Primila Jayapal was on break back in Washington State, so I spoke with Stephanie Kang, her staffer working on health and nutrition issues. Unlike many Legislative Assistants, Stephanie is a fellow for Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. She is a Doctor of Public Health at Harvard University working on the Medicaid for All Bill. Because we are not allowed to advocate under as Title V recipients, my fellow trainee Alyssa Thomas (from Colorado State) and I spoke to Stephanie about the MCH Traineeship in developing nutrition leaders and how we could be a potential resource to Congresswoman Jayapal in the future. We continued to chat about the role of public health in federal policy; Stephanie shared that public health practitioners/students rarely stop in to speak with the Congresswoman or her LAs. She emphasized the need for public health students to experience the operations of developing policy.
The end of Day 2 involved grouping up to discuss and strategize future steps for trainees and grantees. Trainees discussed the future of this blog as well as how to continue to create connections and to make our group more cohesive.
Overall, this conference offered a plethora of information vital to our professions, regardless of the specific job. It was helpful to feel more involved in the traineeship through meeting other trainees, faculty and other grantees face-to-face. I would say it has been a highlight of the traineeship so far and would encourage any future trainee to make it a point to attend.