Medical Students and Educators Unite to Promote Healthy Classrooms

It's been two years since the medical school decided to change its name and become the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Given the four-year course of medical education, this means the Class of 2010 is the very first class to experience the transition in the way we think about medicine and public health.

It turns out that changing the name of the school is the easy part. The real challenges lie in integrating public health into the curriculum and research — and, beyond that, in making an actual impact on public health in the community. The idea of expanding the school's mission to include public health was the inspiration for UW medical students to organize "Healthy Classrooms: A Public Health in Education Symposium."

The student-organized event brought together teachers, parents, principals, physicians and community members to discuss the effects of public health issues on children in the classroom. The symposium addressed topics including the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, sexuality education, childhood obesity, enhancing nutrition in schools, providing health insurance for students, as well as others. Altogether, ten presenters from across UW and around the state discussed the integration of public health practices into the lives of the attendees, their students and their classrooms.

Ben Weston, a second-year medical student who is a leader of the student organization called Public Health and Medicine Interest Group (PHMIG), was the driving force behind the symposium. At the start of the school year, the interest group membership laid out several goals, including, "Bring public health to the public."

"From all the classroom time studying population health, it was clear to us that we needed to focus our efforts "upstream" on preventive measures, promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors at an early age. We began to think about our own primary school experiences and the lack of attention public health issues had received," says Weston.
"We wished there could be a better connection between teachers and physicians in the community, a link that could promote healthy practices in the lives of children and young adults."

PHMIG members envisioned a ripple effect. Reaching out to one teacher meant reaching out to 30 students.
"And if we reached out to one principal, then we could reach out to 30 teachers," says Weston. "Soon we connected with the entire Madison Metropolitan School District, including 40 principals, in an effort to make an impact on the 24,000 students enrolled in public schools in Madison and the surrounding area."

Recognize the need more than a one-time event, students are now exploring the possibility of initiating a local program that promotes simple, fun and effective ways to live a healthy life.