In collaboration with New York State, Cornell launched an online program, named “Citizen Public Health Leader Training Program,” meant to empower people to be community leaders and sources of reliable information on public health matters.
Cornell professors designed the program to inform the public on the basics of COVID-19 while preparing them for future public health emergencies. The 16 hour course is meant for any concerned citizen, with the goal of putting at least one public health leader in every neighborhood.
“Citizens can be better educated and prepared to work in their communities, and then maybe become volunteers, maybe work with health departments,” said Prof. Alexander Travis, biomedical sciences, the director of Cornell’s master of public health program. “When the next crisis comes, people will know where they can go for good information.”
Travis worked with Prof. Gen Meredith, population medicine and diagnostic sciences, to coordinate the collaboration with the state and working with other professors to create course content.
Travis emphasized the importance of making public health information accessible. As part of that goal, New York State is offering the course to anyone in the state for no charge, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) suggested expanding access to the entire nation in his March 24th address to the state.
Contributors to the course were pulled from beyond the MPH program, who contributed to the curriculum based on their expertise.
“I think access to information and access to education is really important,” said Prof. Amelia Greiner Safi, public health.
Safi was in charge of integrating important aspects of the social sciences into the course, confronting misinformation and disinformation and introducing the bio-socio-ecological model she developed to illustrate the variety of factors that impact health.
“I just think these topics are important for everybody,” Safi said. “It just helps improve societal functioning.”
There is also a dedicated portion on vaccine information, which Dr. Susana Morales, internal medicine said will be a valuable source of information for the public as more and more people become eligible.
“The kind of philosophy that we have is empowerment with information and respect and empathy for people’s journey to make their own decisions about vaccines,” said Morales.
In addition to providing information about the current pandemic, the Citizen Health Training program is meant to prepare citizens with the necessary health information to educate their communities on health issues that go beyond the pandemic.
The course includes topics such as air pollution, climate events, health disparities and more, all of which are integral to an individual’s assessment of their own health and that or their community.
“I hope it helps people better understand the extent of the impact they can have on their neighbors and their families in their community,” Safi said. “When people are organized and try to look out for one another and understand the different needs that exist out there and how to meet them, we’re more able to help one another and more resilient in the face of challenge or disaster.”