up political action in health care through partnerships suits graduate
student Anjli Aurora just fine
to a Friend
Aurora, 06N, remembers the first time she attended a HealthSTAT
leadership symposium at Emory more than two years ago. The topic
was childhood obesity, participants were required to submit an essay,
and attendance was limited.
Now a graduate nursing student
majoring in maternal and infant health, Aurora had a "vested
interest" in the subject, she says. She sent in her essay.
But of the 40 medical, public health,
and nutrition students attending the event, she was the only nursing
"When they went around
the room asking people what school they were in, I was the only
one in nursing school. I thought, ‘Huh, now that's a
little disappointing.' "
That didn't stop the Woodruff
Scholar, who was inspired by the programming for the three-day event
and joined the organization.
"They had knowledgeable
speakers, and it was very interactive," says Aurora. "We
developed an action plan on things we thought were important to
address in childhood obesity and published a paper from the symposium.
The paper was sent to policymakers and people who can make a difference.
I had a feeling that my voice was being heard."
With a motto of "Care, Learn, Act,"
HealthSTAT stands for Health Students Taking Action Together, and
it's the action-oriented environment and the ability to make
a difference that prompted Aurora, and hundreds of other students
across the state, to make their mark on the future of health care.
Formed five years ago by five Emory
health sciences students concerned about growing health disparities
and an educational gap between the classroom and real-world issues,
HealthSTAT has grown to 1,000 students across the state from Emory
University, the Medical College of Georgia, Morehouse School of
Medicine, Mercer University, and the University of Georgia, among
others. Its membership includes all health professions and embraces
business and law students concerned about the future of health care.
president in 2005 of the Emory Student Nurses Association and as
the Breakthrough to Nursing director for the Georgia Association
of Nursing Students, Aurora publicized HealthSTAT's objectives
and programs and encouraged other nursing school students—both
at Emory and across the state—to get involved.
into the thick of things is normal for Aurora, who admits she "likes
to carry a lot on my plate."
receiving her undergraduate degree in biology and women's
studies at the University of Michigan and her master's degree
in public health at Boston University, she came to Emory to earn
her BSN "knowing no one but my boyfriend." But she already
had a firm idea of getting involved in issues that affected her
patients. HealthSTAT has been a good fit for Aurora, who is HealthSTAT's
incoming president of the board. "The biggest issue for HealthSTAT
is that of the uninsured patients who are marginalized in any way,"
she says. "It is so underestimated what good health means
to people and how that is linked to access to health care."
information to patients is important, she adds. "The public
turns to us as future health professionals when they want to know
issues about health care. In school, it's imperative to expose
yourself to an issue-oriented curricula, and it's important
to get that before entering the workforce. If you get that experience
when you are in school, you'll think about it more when you're
out of school."
HealthSTAT's programming emphasizes access to care for children,
childhood obesity, uninsured immigrants, and continual education
about HIV/AIDS. Although she originally "hated politics,"
Aurora and her fellow students learned it was important to know
how the legislative system—and politics—work. And sometimes,
the issues don't seem to address health care at first.
For example: "The immigration
bills have been at the top of the list (in the state legislature),
but part of that issue has to do with access to health care,"
she explains. "HealthSTAT volunteers worked very hard to make
sure children and those with emergency situations could not be denied
appropriate health care."
group collaborated with Health Professionals for a Healthy Georgia,
a group of professionals and students, to lobby against legislation
that would have prohibited undocumented immigrants from receiving
any publicly funded services, including prenatal care.
and other HealthSTAT members did lobbying training and held rallies
at the state Capitol, where she spoke in support of removing the
restrictions for prenatal care from the bill.
final bills that went to committee had most of the health care provisions
taken out of them," Aurora says with satisfaction.
involved in the grass roots of helping her patients is important
to Aurora, who knew she wanted to "take care of people"
at an early age.
wanted to dedicate my life to encouraging people to stand up for
what they believe. I wanted to empower people," she says.
"That's what HealthSTAT wants to do, and that's
why I'm so attracted to the organization."
And true to its mission, the group follows through with action.
A childhood obesity symposium two years ago sparked several projects,
including Stepping for Health, a pilot program in Augusta. The program
fraternities who teach elementary school-children elaborate "step"
dances. Stepping for Health also offers interactive nutritional
advice and PowerPlay (Preventing Obesity through Wellness Education
and Recreation: Providing Lifestyle Alternatives for Youths), a
12-week program for children ages 11 to 17.
An oral history project on HIV/AIDS
and a fall leadership symposium on the subject resulted in suggested
curricula reforms to help students better understand and help their
HIV/AIDS patients and also address prevention more proactively.
Aurora is working on that curriculum reform, which the group hopes
to pilot in the School of Nursing this year.
goal is to create a student movement of future health professionals
who will start engaging in community action and continue that as
professionals," says Larissa Thomas, current HealthSTAT president
and an Emory medical student.
nature of health education can make you self-centered—you
sacrifice a lot," she adds. "But almost everyone who
comes into medical and nursing schools wants to help people. The
goal of HealthSTAT is to show students that even though they're
busy, they can remain true to that desire to help people even while
they're students. We try to emphasize that waiting until you're
in your career to get involved isn't necessarily the best
way to go. The sense
of community activism and getting involved starts now."
Arthur Kellermann, an Emory physician and a longtime health advocate,
has worked with the group since its inception.
is a student-led organization that has achieved remarkable results
in a short time," he says. "I am amazed at what these
professional students manage to accomplish, given their heavy academic
and clinical schedules."
recently, HealthSTAT received a $100,000 Kellogg Foundation grant
to support leadership development and building more infrastructure,
including website development and more symposiums similar to the
one that first attracted Aurora to the group. The Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation gave the group a $56,000 grant for an online journal.
Senator David Adelman, a member of Georgia's Health and Human
Services Committee, has advised HealthSTAT students on the budgetary
and Medicaid reimbursement process since the organization's
are a bright group of people. I like to think I've helped
them with advocacy strategy and understanding the state budget,
but usually when they call me, they already have the answer and
want me to confirm it," Adelman says.
What also makes HealthSTAT so remarkable, admirers say, is its multidisciplinary
scope and its loose structure: Students do as much or as little
as they are able, whether it's sending postcards to legislators,
organizing programming for elementary schools, or hosting a candlelight
In the process, they cut across disciplinary
lines, forming friendships and contacts with students who share
their passion. That impresses Ann Connor, who has seen the group
leap into action over legislative issues.
are building collegiality on a multidisciplinary and multi-university
level, and I trust that will carry over into their professional
lives," says Connor, clinical assistant professor in the School
of Nursing. "They are working so passionately together on
issues that really matter."
passion is evident in Aurora's enthusiasm for HealthSTAT,
which continues to pay off. During the fall 2005 HealthSTAT leadership
symposium on HIV/AIDS, the "What school?" question went
around. This time, she wasn't
they got around to asking what schools everyone was from and said,
‘Raise your hand if you're a nursing student,'
more than half the room raised their hands, and people started clapping.
It was great."
more information about HealthSTAT,
Rebecca Rakoczy is an Atlanta freelance writer.