Building Public Health Leadership in Rhode Island and the Next Generation
Professor of Public Health and Biology Kerri Warren discusses her new role as Rhode Island Public Health Association President
Every time you turn on a faucet to drink clean water, enjoy summer weather without fear of polio, or brush your teeth, you experience public health successes in action. But as we know, public health work is never done, and new issues continually face society. Hello, Covid-19. As part of her work to promote public health in Rhode Island, Professor Kerri Warren, co-founder of RWU’s Public Health program, took the reins as President of the Rhode Island Public Health Association (RIPHA) in November of 2022.
Here, Warren discusses her new role as RIPHA president, and how she prepares students to be the future of public health leadership.
What is the function of the RIPHA president?
The Rhode Island Public Health Association is an independent group of action-oriented, multi-disciplinary volunteers interested in public health in Rhode Island. The RIPHA president helps lead and organize the efforts for the advancement of a healthier Rhode Island and facilitates our connection to the American Public Health Association (APHA), which celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2022.
What will you bring to your role as the president?
RIPHA works in collaboration with our organizational partners. We have a strong network with our academic institutions. My tie-in to academics comes from Roger Williams University, which provides education with a focus on community engagement and well-roundedness. That approach is what we need to address public health challenges. I will bring my natural connection to our students, who are the next generation of public health leaders.
What are the public health challenges and opportunities facing RI?
Rhode Island communities face many of the same public health issues that the nation and world face, such as rising cases of chronic and infectious disease, mental illness, substance abuse, overdose, gun violence, severe weather events, and uneven access to health care, behavioral health care and preventative health services.
We need to address these issues by responding to the present challenges, but also by working to support the upstream conditions that lead to better health, such as equitable access to quality food, housing, education, opportunity and health care.
How does RWU’s public health major prepare our graduates for the multifaceted work across public health?
The Public Health program is an amazing combination of why our students are attracted to Roger Williams: community engagement, activities, hands-on projects, and an interest in making a difference. We have a lot of students who pair a Public Health major or minor with their other interests to prepare themselves for the multidisciplinary field.
We have built two significant fieldwork experiences into our curriculum. Those field experiences help students get out in the community and start contributing. Sometimes they lead to acceptance into a graduate program or directly into a position. Students might just keep adding facets to their experience that will make them uniquely set up to do a job that we don't even know exists yet.
Why has public health become such a vital component of global society's health and well-being?
Public health successes are often in the in the background of society working to keep people safe. Emerging issues, for example, the new coronavirus, put public health in the spotlight. In the last 150 years of the APHA we've made a lot of progress, but the goalposts are constantly moving. When we learn more, we can put in interventions that change the baseline of what is acceptable. Emergent issues make room for conversations about how we got where we are and what the future can look like. We welcome all people interested in public health to get involved and help us work together, collectively with our partners, for public health in the state and in the nation.