Trainee Spotlight: Sarah Bergen

Sarah Bergen, MPH in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology ’20, completed her applied practice experience at the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago (PHIMC) in Chicago, IL. This organization is a systems-based organization where they build capacities of other organizations to do work, manage grant funding, and provide fiscal assistance. Sarah worked mainly on school-based programming for adolescent youth, called the School Health Access Collaborative. This collaborative works to improve school-based health centers, health in schools, and mobile care units. PHIMC identified that there are issues with data sharing between Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the healthcare providers that are providing care at these schools for many reasons: the capacity of schools, HIPAA, parental consent, and limited IT capacity to share data.

Sarah worked on creating a data-sharing toolkit that healthcare providers could use to initiate a data sharing agreement with CPS. Sarah was able to meet with CPS many times, and worked  with the Office of Student Health and Wellness. She completed a literature review on data sharing best practices between schools and healthcare providers, as well as created a process map for healthcare providers to use.

Another project she worked on was the Little Village Student Health Initiative. This is an initiative where three community-based organizations were given grants to go into schools and create a partnership to increase “Healthy CPS”. She was able to assist with the evaluation portion of this initiative and wrote a report for the funder.

A third project she worked on was for The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which supports LGBTQ youth in schools. Legislation was recently passed in Illinois to have inclusive curriculum in schools on LGBTQ individuals throughout history and current events. Near the end of her field experience, she completed research on this piece of legislation.

When asking what the top 3 things she learned this past summer were, Sarah said that she was able to understand the importance of collaboration, and how it can take a long time to conduct quality collaboration in order to have a cohesive end result. Secondly, she learned that she really enjoyed doing evaluations. She is interested to see how data can be interpreted in many different ways, especially qualitative data. Finally, she got firsthand experience witnessing how healthcare systems are so complex, and how multifaceted health systems really are.

Sarah’s advice for first-year students is to start looking for an organization to complete their field experience at early, to look for those UIC connections but to not be afraid to email organizations directly that you are interested in. She found that looking back on past work from first year is a great guide for when you first begin the Applied Practice Experience. Sara also said, “Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and engage with your supervisor to get that feedback”, because many times you are doing things that you have never done before.