Public Health Careers – Social Worker

Participants of the Shukushukuma Beadwork Project (top left); Elizabeth (right); a pair of earrings from the Beadwork Project (bottom left)

Participants of the Shukushukuma Beadwork Project (top left); Elizabeth (right); a pair of earrings from the Beadwork Project (bottom left)

Public health is a field comprised of various professions. We were fortunate to hear from not only doctors and nurses but also a public health social worker, economist/policy maker and communication specialist.

Elizabeth is a social worker at the Topsy Foundation, an HIV/AIDS clinic in South Africa. She is responsible for making sure that the organization treats the whole patient. For example, she trains the 22 community workers on how to engage patients during home visits. The workers are then able to assess the patients’ social needs that affect their health situation. Additionally, there are several empowerment programs that provide patients with skills training so that they can earn income. Two such initiatives are the Shukushukuma Beadwork Projet and  the Tinyiko Sewing Project. Women in these groups learn to make products, such as stuffed animals, blankets and jewelry, that they sell for profit. They are in turn able to provide for their families. Elizabeth explained that these programs address the families’ lack of basic necessities, freeing them to consider treatment for and prevention against HIV/AIDS.

To view or purchase items from the women entrepreneurs of the Topsy Foundation, email

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Student Highlight #3

Emma (top photo, far left) and ULMC students; partial of ULMC banner (bottom left); Nikita (right)

Emma (top photo, far left) and ULMC students; partial of ULMC banner (bottom left); Nikita (right)

Student Highlight #3
Emma S. and Nikita N.

After our tour of the University of Limpopo Medunsa campus, the microbiology and virology programs hosted us for lunch. Ever the Student Affairs professional 🙂 , I requested that Dr. Blackard have the UC and ULMC students intermingle. Both groups admitted to initially feeling hesitant to speak to one another. Once they started, however, it was difficult to separate them and continue with our campus tour! Two UC students in particular would like to share their experience.

Nikita is a first-year pre-pharmacy major. When she heard the instructions to sit next to someone that she didn’t know, she was nervous that, “there would be a cultural barrier and that we wouldn’t be able to identify with each other.” Actually, they found that they had a lot in common. All of the girls thought their dorms were gross and that college guys smell bad 😉 !

Emma, a second year biomedical engineering major, felt guilty that she would be limited to English and had no knowledge of other South African languages. She quickly forgot that, however, as they started talking about college life, music and TV. The discussion about what the girls do for fun did unveil that some of the South African students had preconceptions as well. For example, they expected to see the UC ladies with long, blonde tresses and dressed like the characters on the show Gossip Girl. The session ended with smiles and promises to friend each other on Facebook.

Emma chose to participate in this course to expand her understanding of the biomedical needs of the developing world and to see real world application of what she learn in the classroom. This fall she will begin a co-opt with Johnson & Johnson as they explore using more affordable, quality prosthetic materials for use in developing countries. She hopes to use her experiences in Southern Africa to inform her own research project.

Nikita decided that this was the sudy tour for her because she has committed herself to operating outside of her comfort zone, geographically and academically speaking. Other than India, she has not traveled outside of the US and  her classes mainly focus of biology and chemistry. “Public Health in Southern Africa” has exposed her the patient care apect of the medical field and has whet her appetite for study tours. She hopes to join the UC research tour to the Brazilian Amazon.

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University of Limpopo Medunsa (Medical) Campus

Henry (center; top photo) explains the birthing sim room

Hank (center; top photo) explains the birthing sim room

One highlight from our visit to the University of Limpopo Medunsa (Medical) campus was the tour of the new skills building that was built in 2010. It serves as the simulation center for the entire campus.

Hank, who calls his position as the University’s simulation coordinator, ‘the best job in the world,’ led the tour. He passionately shared his philosophy with us regarding how invaluable the skills labs are to preparing students for practice. Professor Tina Weitkamp was especially impressed with the University’s commitment to the interdisciplinary training of its students. For instance, when possible, the skills labs bring in mixed groups of students from the nursing, medical, speech pathology, and occupational therapy programs, and they work through a patient problem together. In this setting, students are introduced to collaboration across disciplines and in knowing everyone’s potential, the patient gets the best care possible.

See Student Highlight #3 for more about our time at the University.

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Student Highlight #2

Outside That's It Guesthouse

Outside That’s It Guesthouse

Dee E.

Dee is a Health Education major, a newly established undergraduate program at UC. In Dee’s opinion, everyone in a health-related program should study abroad becuase it cultivates transferable skills and perspectives such as adaptability and cultural sensitivity.

After our visit to the Topsy Foundation (a non-governmental organization that serves some rural South African communities that are ‘infected [with] and affected HIV and AIDS’), Dee shared some of her observations with me regarding public health in Uganda and South Africa. During her first trip to Africa, she volunteered in a rural clinic in Kapeeka, Uganda where she witnessed how resource deficits (e.g. money, water, medical professionals, etc.) can hamper health improvement efforts. At the Topsy Foundation, she saw an example of effective, holistic programming that betters the lives of patients and their families. Each experience has helped to shape her outlook on her potential contributions to health education. The conditions in Ugnada, for example, inspire Dee to creatively consider solutions to improve health systems, whereas the successes in organizations such as Topsy give her hope that those ideas can actually come to fruition.

For more information about the Topsy Foundation, visit

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Student Highlight #1


Ryan B.

As a Health Sciences/History double major and Honors student, Ryan doesn’t have much room in his academic schedule for the ‘extras’ which is how some describe study abroad programs. He decided, however, that going abroad was an essential, and he signed up for the Public Health in Southern Africa course. Study tours such as this one allow students to participate in international programs without the semester or yearlong interruption of their academic plan that is associated with the traditional study abroad structure. Although this class put him over the threshold of a full-time course load, it was the best fit for him. Here’s his advice for those who want to engage in an international experience but have a rigid course schedule, “Don’t let how busy you are limit what you do. [A study tour abroad] is great, and you probably won’t get-around-to-it at any other time!”

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The Journey II

For many in the group, this is our first trip to the continent of Africa. The entire flight from Cincinnati, OH to Johannesburg, South Africa was over 15 hours long. It didn’t occur to some of us that our cultural experience … Continue reading

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The Journey

Our Group @ Cincinnati Airport

We have brought along ‘Flat Flo’ as a sage representative of the UC College of Nursing. You’ll see her in some of our pictures 🙂 Can you spot her in this one?

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