The Student Outreach and Response Team (SORT) at Emory University took second place in the annual 2005 Linkage Awards. Presented annually by the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice, the awards recognize exemplary community-based collaborative activities between public health practice agencies and academic institutions.
Emory's Rollins School of Public Health Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research and the DeKalb County Board of Health developed SORT to help bridge the gap between classroom theories and the realities of public health practice. The program received $500 from the Council on Linkages for the second place award to help participants enhance the program.
"The program is designed for students to gain a better understanding of how local public health works at a community level and to interest more students in pursuing a career in local public health," said Ruth Berkelman, MD, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health. "Local and state public health departments have a great need for students trained in public health, and we're hopeful that the SORT experience in DeKalb will used as a model and will be expanded to other interested local public health departments."
Sara Forsting, MPH, an Emory alumna and now an environmental epidemiologist at the DeKalb County Board of Health, saw the need for this kind of program after graduating and starting her public health career. She modeled SORT after a program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, at the time bearing the same name - Student Outbreak Response Team.
"The program evolved to more accurately represent the career opportunities in local public health," says Forsting. "With the expansion of student activities to include not only outbreak response but issues like tobacco use prevention and mosquito control, SORT, became the Student Outreach and Response Team."
Forsting's co-coordinator at the health department is Ariane Reeves, RN, a communicable disease nurse, who is currently enrolled in the Career Masters in Public Health Program at Emory. Others leading the effort include Dr. Berkelman; Jody Usher, PhD, assistant dean of student affairs, Rollins School of Public Health; Darren Collins, director of the DeKalb County Board of Health's Center for Public Health Preparedness; and William Dyal, director of population based services, DeKalb County Board of Health. Students currently on the leadership team include Yoran Grant, Caroline Ridley, and Marjorie Givens.
Emory public health student Sherry Jung participated in SORT during the last academic year and is now summer intern for the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the DeKalb County Board of Health.
"SORT has provided an opportunity for me to receive training, network with public health officials, and apply my education to local public health practice in the community," says Jung, who is pursuing a master's degree in epidemiology. "My participation in SORT has bridged a gap between classroom education and real life public health situations. Through my experiences, I've gained practical insight in the public health system first-hand."
In the past year, SORT students have participated in an outbreak investigation involving a student with active tuberculosis at a DeKalb County high school, an investigation of food-borne illnesses, and administration of community-wide influenza vaccination clinics. In addition to offering extra hands, the student volunteers attend lectures and training sessions taught by public health officials and hear case studies from actual events in DeKalb County.
Since its pilot year in 2002, the program expanded from the 15 students primarily in epidemiology, to 30 students from all departments across the Rollins School of Public Health.