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The American Public Health Association hosted the 143rd Annual Meeting and Expo earlier this month. Themed “Health in All Policies,” the conference covered a range of topics including the importance of public health advocacy in policy decisions, the necessary steps required to address health disparities, and the importance of walkable communities. I was invited to attend on behalf of the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) II, and quickly became excited for my first major outreach event. I anticipated coming away with an understanding of our outreach strategy, a glimpse of future applicants, and a much firmer handshake. After spending a week with the team in Chicago, Illinois, my expectations were quickly overshadowed by three important lessons.

First, the outreach event emphasized the strength of our GHFP-II program teams. At GHFP-II I provide operational support to Fellows working at the Bureau for Global Health in Washington, DC, and around the world via USAID Missions or implementing partner organizations. To be part of outreach I left my role in the office for over a week, and never doubted the quality of work to support Fellows. GHFP-II emphasizes the professional development of Fellows and Interns (also referred to as Participants) at all levels in their career through course that improve their technical and interpersonal skills. GHFP-II also supports Fellows with travel and other operational questions. My team responded to countless inquiries from Fellows and resolved each issue that came their way. I enjoyed each conference day with the full confidence that my work was being covered and my team would have my back (Thanks, Participant Support!).

Second, I became aware of the importance of a marketing and branding strategy. Conference attendees with no prior program contact recognized our name, appreciated our booth and approached with an understanding of our mission and work. As I spoke with visitors, they frequently discussed visiting our website, recognizing our name and wanting to become involved. Our booth was consistently crowded with eager future applicants, and I largely attribute this to the strength of the program brand and name.

Finally, I came away from APHA with an appreciation for the long-lasting impact of global health work. Students, teachers, advisors, and professionals all approached our team with a gratitude for our work and a passion to become involved. Whether they had been touched by a specific international health intervention or were just learning about the diversity of global health topics, our booth visitors hoped to inspire change in the global landscape. Much like our Fellows, they were driven by the possibility of a healthier world, and longed to invest their skills in a global setting.

At the end of the conference my handshake had improved, but more importantly I came away with an appreciation for my GHFP-II team members, an awareness of our diverse program strengths, and a renewed inspiration to continue pursuing a career in global health.

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Kari Vredenburg is a GHFP-II Participant Support Specialist.