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Alumni Panelists Address Public Health

As Fallcoming Weekend approaches, Hamilton alumni have begun to trickle back to campus. Among the first to return were Dr. Michael Kelberman ’80, Karen McDonnell ’91, Alysia Mihalakos ’01, Allison Demas ’07 and James Liebow ’13. On Sept. 26, these five alumni addressed public health in America during a panel discussion led by Professor of Biology Herm Lehman.

President Joan Stewart started the evening by welcoming the panelists back to the Hill and thanking the Levitt Center and the Career Center for their work in organizing the event. 

Professor Lehman opened the discussion with a brief introduction that touched on the many sides of public health. The panelists then began by addressing what every citizen should know about public health. They touched on the idea that much of the field focuses on the prevention, not just the treatment, of illness. Panelists also warned against the stream of misinformation coming from the media. They encouraged the use of the CDC website, which provides accessible and understandable information, and also reminded the audience of the sensational nature and hidden agendas of news outlets.

The discussion shifted to address America’s largest healthcare problem: communication. The majority of the panel members agreed that the lack of communication between government agencies, healthcare providers, physicians, and patients is largely hindering the effectiveness of public health initiatives.

Mihalakos, who majored in sociology at Hamilton and is currently interim chief for the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR) at the Rhode Island Department of Health, said that healthy communities are created from the inside out and that facilitating open talks within communities is essential.

Dr. Kelberman, cardiologist and president of The Kelberman Center for Autism Services, had a different opinion on the matter. He believes that nutritional deficits and obesity are America’s greatest health problem. Dealing with obese patients as a cardiologist, Kelberman is acutely aware of their low energy and tendency to develop disabilities. This subsequently eats away at the work ethic of the country and begins a downward spiral.

The panel went on to address current Hamilton students directly by offering advice for careers in public health. McDonnell, psychobiology major and associate professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, pointed to Hamilton’s proud tradition of producing strong student writers. She stated that in today’s market, the ability to write effectively is an advantage Hamilton alumni have. Kelberman affirmed that Hamilton taught him how to think, how to create, and perhaps most importantly, how to get help when he needed it. As exemplified by the backgrounds and current positions of the panelists, there is no “right path” to a profession in public health, a sentiment echoed by Demas. 

The evening concluded with a question and answer period that spanned topics from emergency preparedness, to each panelist’s day-to-day responsibilities, and to the best way to communicate with the masses. The panelists agreed that education of the nation’s youth on these issues should be a priority, but with the current educational reform resulting in a decrease of art and gym classes, fighting for a place in the core curriculum is difficult. As children look toward adults for role models, we need to send the right message. Michelle Obama’s Get Moving campaign is a strong step forward, but is one of many necessary to increase America’s health.

The Levitt Center will be hosting a Think Tank with the panelists today at noon to discuss how the same approaches that are used for communicable diseases can address the epidemic of obesity.

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