Overcoming my fear of public speaking

Each week in my public health management class, we read and comment on blog posts in the Harvard Business Review. One post, entitled Fear Means Go, got me thinking about all of the fears I had to face on my way to making a career change to public health. A big one for me is public speaking. When you have a fear, it is easy to feel like you’re the only one that has this fear. You look at everyone else around you and think, “Wow, they seem so comfortable up there. I could never be like that.” I guess I’ve never had a reason to want to overcome this fear…until I decided to pursue public health. Such a big part of working in public health is contributing ideas in meetings, presenting research and projects and educating the public. As Lara Galinsky wrote in Fear Means Go, “fear was a compass — an indicator of the direction you should go in if you want to become the person you have the potential to be.”

The semester before I started my MPH program, I enrolled in a public speaking workshop at the Open Center in New York City, and found people who were even more scared of public speaking than I was. Our first exercise was simply to stand in front of the class while everyone had their eyes closed. By the end of the workshop, we gave a short presentation teaching the class how to do something. We used hand gestures, moved around, made eye contact with the audience and…had no notes! Every single person in the class participated, even those who were too nervous just to introduce themselves on the first day of class.

After the public speaking workshop, I enrolled in a Michael Chekov acting workshop (also at the Open Center). It was not a performance class in which we had to memorize lines, but rather, we engaged in playful exercises designed to act out an emotion or idea using whole body movement and tone of voice. It was a freeing experience to forget all about feeling self-conscious, and focus only on embodying the message I was trying to deliver.

It has been nearly two years since both of those classes, and while I still get very nervous speaking in front of audiences, it is no longer the terrifying experience it once was. During my public health fieldwork, I listed public speaking as one of my goals. At the end of the internship, I spoke to a group of incoming interns about my experiences and presented (in a group) in front of my entire bureau on my project. Opening my mouth when I have something to say is coming more naturally, and I feel comfortable contributing during class or during meetings. It’s a work in progress, but I’m glad to say that I confronted one of my biggest fears, had fun in the process and most of all, survived!

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My study trip to Cuba


Golden Age Cubans, 100 years old and above. Cuba, un lugar para vivir. Cuba, a place to live!

In January 2013, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend one week in Cuba and learn about its healthcare system, thanks to the CUNY Institute for Health Equity and Professor Marilyn Aguirre-Molina. Since the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba has prioritized healthcare. As a result, Cuba has made great strides in improving the health of its people and has moved from largely fighting diseases of poverty (parasitic and infectious disease), to diseases of development (heart disease and cancer). Not a small feat in a country with limited financial resources and perhaps more importantly, a limited means to access medical equipment and pharmaceuticals (due in large part to the U.S. embargo). Many Cubans we met during the trip credited the embargo with leading to much of Cuba’s innovation and ability to “do a lot with a little.”

I am particularly interested in exploring ways to increase access to preventative and primary care, and making comparisons between countries is useful in identifying best practices to inform health policy creation, analysis and implementation. In the United States, we spend 19 times more on health per capita than in Cuba, yet experience slightly worse health outcomes. Why is that? 

Figures from 2009 unless otherwise indicated. 



Life expectancy at birth M/F (in years)



Probability of dying under 5 (per 1000 live births)



Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years of age M/F (per 1000 population)



Total expenditure on health per capita      (Intl $, 2010)



World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/countries/cub/en/http://www.who.int/countries/usa/en/.

My greatest lesson from my trip to Cuba is learning about a system that first and foremost attempts to support the well-being of all people, a concept very much lacking in our own healthcare debates in the U.S. Participating in this unique opportunity to speak directly with healthcare workers and educators of public health personnel allowed me to appreciate how integrating medicine and public health, engaging local communities and including health in all policies contribute to achieving better health outcomes. By focusing on prevention and utilizing a community-based approach, Cuba is able to control costs and provide personalized comprehensive care to all of its citizens. In future blog posts, I will describe my experiences with various aspects of the Cuban healthcare system, and how despite their struggling economy, Cuba is able to achieve health outcomes comparable to those of developed nations.
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Paid Sick Days: A Public Health Issue

Imagine ordering a meal at a fast food restaurant, and seeing the person preparing it sniffling, coughing and sneezing. It probably happens more often than you realize.

Most fast food restaurant workers in New York City do not have paid sick days. There is currently no law requiring employers to provide paid sick days. There also exists a very real fear of losing their jobs if they were to take time off due to illness.

Fast food restaurant workers in New York City make as little as $7.25 an hour. If they worked 40 hours a week, all 52 weeks of the year, they would have a gross salary of a little over $15,000. They simply cannot afford to take unpaid time away from work when they get sick.

Current fast food worker conditions of low wages and no paid sick leave days are detrimental to preventing the spread of infectious disease. Fast food restaurant workers without the “luxury” to stay home when they are ill put many at risk for contracting infectious disease. They may travel on public transportation, exposing a countless number of people. They interact with customers and other workers in the restaurant, and/or directly handle and prepare food.

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer proposed a bill requiring employers to provide 5 paid sick days for companies with 5-19 employees and 9 paid sick days for larger companies. While this may be sufficient for single employees without families, for employees with dependents, this may not be enough.  For example, if employees do not have enough paid sick days to stay home with sick children, they are forced to send their children to school and risk exposing other children to illness.

Councilman Dan Garodnick proposed a less aggressive solution, calling for 5 paid sick days for any company with more than 5 employees, and affords restaurant workers the right to swap shifts or take sick days. Garodnick’s proposal may somewhat alleviate the fear of losing one’s job by taking sick leave, but still would not offer enough paid sick leave, especially for employees with families.

Offering a comprehensive and more effective solution to improve work conditions for fast food restaurant workers would simultaneously fight the spread of infectious disease. We need to do two things: 1) change minimum wage to a living wage and 2) offer adequate paid sick leave.

Living wage refers to the hourly wage a worker must earn to support himself or herself. In New York City, minimum wage ($7.25) is $5.50/hour below the living wage ($12.75). In June 2012, the City Council overrode Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the Fair Workers for All New Yorkers Act. This Act requires that all employers who receive more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies pay a living wage of $10/hour with health benefits and $11.50/hour without health benefits. This Act does not include all minimum wage employers and still falls short of the NYC living wage of $12.75.

The opportunity for paid sick leave will decrease infectious disease exposure and promote recovery, leading to a more productive workforce, not only within fast food establishments, but for the city as a whole. Parents can stay home with sick children, and with increased wages, would have an increased capacity to pay for sick child care.

The United States is currently experiencing widespread flu activity, and federal health officials report an unusually early flu season that continues to intensify.  Therefore, it is especially timely and urgent to fight for living wage and paid sick leave.

What is minimum wage where you live, and how does that compare to the living wage? (Click here for the Living Wage Calculator.) What are your local paid sick day policies? Who are the politicians advocating for better worker conditions? Tweet me at @JMCelio !



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Write to your elected officials regarding public health policy

In order to affect health policy, public health students and professionals must reach out to elected officials to make our voices and opinions heard. One way to do this is to mail out a brief one-page letter stating the issue, reasons for supporting or opposing proposed legislation and a request for action. While form e-mails and petitions are also effective and less time consuming, a well thought out letter may stand out and even be brought to the legislator’s personal attention. It demonstrates that this constituent has a strong opinion about this issue (and that maybe the legislator should too).

Below is a letter I wrote urging a Congressperson to oppose budget cuts that would weaken SNAP benefits. Please feel free to use some or all of the letter to reach out to your respective elected officials regarding SNAP.

Dear Representative  _____________,

I am writing to ask your continued support in protecting federal nutrition safety net programs, by opposing budget cuts that would weaken the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the USDA, SNAP served over 45 million people (about 1 out of 7 Americans) in FY2011.  In New York City alone, there are 1.8 million SNAP beneficiaries.  SNAP is instrumental in not only combatting hunger, but also in improving the nutritional status of low-income people, especially children, the elderly and the disabled.

Farmers’ markets are increasingly accepting SNAP benefits and here in New York City (NYC), we have the largest city-operated SNAP incentive program in the nation, Health Bucks.  For every 5 SNAP dollars spent at a farmers’ market using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), beneficiaries receive one Health Buck, equivalent to $2.  According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Health Bucks as a SNAP incentive had a 93% redemption rate in 2011, increasing the consumption of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in SNAP recipients and increasing the income of local farmer. I am concerned that if budget cuts lead to less funding, the health-promoting Health Bucks program would be in jeopardy.

I urge you to speak out against any measure that would weaken SNAP and put 1.8 million New Yorkers at increased risk for food insecurity and malnutrition.  Please emphasize to other members of Congress and your constituents that SNAP is not just a benefit, it is a necessity in the fight against hunger and chronic disease.  It is a necessity for the economic health of the entire food system, including the food industry, American agriculture, food retailers and overwhelmed community-based organizations that already struggle with emergency food provision.



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Superstorm Sandy: A Manhattan Perspective

After the APHA meeting in San Francisco, coming home to New York on October 31st was no ordinary feat.  Many of my colleagues had their flights canceled and were stranded for an additional 1-3 days.  I was one of the lucky ones and made it back with relatively little delay.

I had heard about Superstorm Sandy’s destruction and saw many images, but nothing prepared me for actually being back in New York.  The traffic in Manhattan was nothing like I had ever seen before.  Roads were closed due to a fallen crane and traffic lights were not working south of 39thStreet.  Drivers were irate, very irate, and their blaring car horns and waving fists showed it. After moving 3 car lengths in the span of 15 minutes, I started to get scared that violence would erupt.

There were new sights to be seen walking around on the sidewalks. Those without power and cell phone reception walked north to get in touch with the outside world again. Trees became charging stations (many have power outlets) and people held their devices up against closed Starbucks’ windows, desperate for Wi-Fi.  After days of doing so and more, people simply looked despondent.

At night, the streets north of 39th St. came alive.  Restaurants that were normally empty had 1.5 hour waits.  The “northerners” started to resent the “southerners” and felt as though they were being invaded.

South of 39th St., it was pitch black at night.  With the power out for almost a week, many had no running water and there was very little food for people that stayed in their apartments.  (An unopened refrigerator will stay cold for about 4 hours and a full freezer will keep the temperature about 48 hours.)  Many didn’t have a choice but to stay in their apartments; the elderly and disabled would have a difficult if not impossible time navigating dark hallways and staircases.

I spoke with people from Long Island who had seen their floors break open from the pressure of the water rising from their basement.  Their street was no longer visible but had turned into a rushing current of water.  It would take weeks for their power to be restored, and nature’s assault on the Northeast was far from over.  The following week, we were hit with a Nor’easter.  The absence of power, water and heat became even more brutal.

Recovery is only just beginning, but already there are many lessons learned.   Eager volunteers reported the lack of coordination with relief and shelter efforts.  Clinical staff were sent to locations that did not need their services, yet they were required to stay for 12-hour shifts.  Shelters needed security, workflow direction and supply distribution far more than medical care.  As it turned out, care was needed for people trapped in their apartments who were found 2 weeks after Superstorm Sandy lacking medical necessities such as oxygen tanks and medication.

Looking forward, it is important to identify and address the mental health effects of what has been a very stressful time for so many.  People have lost loved ones, their homes and/or are suffering from financial strain due to property damage and lost wages.  First responders not only had physically demanding jobs, but were exposed to high levels of emotional stress for extended periods of time.

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The Association of Schools of Public Health’s Student Leadership Institute

from L-R: Cedric Harville II, MPH student at University of South Florida; Schweta Pathak, PhD student at University of Texas; Saskia Dominique, BS student at CUNY School of Public Health; Avi Raju, MPH student at University of Texas; Jennifer Celio, MPH student at CUNY School of Public Health

The Association of Schools of Public Health’s Student Leadership Institute held on October 29, 2012 in San Francisco, CA was a wonderful opportunity to network and share knowledge with likeminded, highly motivated public health students of all degree levels throughout the United States.  Through participating in targeted exercises, we met fellow attendees and formed a group with those seated at our table.  Upon completion of each exercise, we examined how effectively we worked together as a group and described our movement through each stage of Networking, Coordinating, Cooperating and Collaborating.  We also reflected on our own student bodies and workplaces, and determined which stage each setting operated in and which stage would be ideal to move towards.

The Student Leadership Institute was fertile ground for exchanging ideas on how to encourage student engagement on our respective campuses.  After I posed a question regarding the challenges of cultivating campus life (particularly at a commuter school with a large population of working students), Institute participants offered the following ideas:

  • Offer free food to draw students to events
  • Organize brief meetings in between classes
  • Organize a trip to somewhere otherwise inaccessible as individual students (research facilities, government agencies, etc.)
  • Inquire about extra credit from professors to attend events
  • Identify strengths/skills and delegate – make people feel like they add value and are not just attending a meeting
  • Get a commitment from student leaders – sign contract
  • Collaboration across other schools/specialties within campus
  • Peer tutoring/mentoring – match people’s interests
  • Social hour with faculty

During the final portion of the Institute, a panel of public health professionals answered questions regarding the job market and offered advice on how to best capitalize on our remaining time at school.  Two discussions I found particularly useful concerned skills that were most attractive to potential employers and regrets or missed opportunities panel participants had as students.

Desired Job Skills:

  • Efficiency – move things faster through bureaucracies
  • Enthusiasm for work – infectious, inspires curiosity, keeps learning, creates good work environment
  • Ability to solve problems – critical thinking
  • Independent worker
  • Good communicator
  • Being able to build a strong case – stand behind data and make a good argument
  • Team player – working well with others AND good independent worker
  • Writing – succinct, especially in policy
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate!
  • Collaboration

Regrets/missed opportunities:

  • Connect with program faculty and maintain relationships with them despite distance
  • Take time to see what’s happening on the ground by volunteering
  • Engage in international public health while there is time/opportunity to travel

The national reach of the Student Leadership Institute opened the door to potential collaboration with students and schools of public health across different states.  The structure and content of the exercises and discussions encouraged self-reflection and provided a stimulus for future academic and professional growth.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Institute at this stage in my public health education, and would encourage all students to seek out similar experiences.

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Make the most of your fieldwork experience!

Fieldwork is an opportunity to apply what you have learned in the classroom, become a part of a public health team, explore different career paths and network.  It can also provide a supportive environment to expand your comfort zone.  If there is a skill you feel is essential to your future success as a public health professional, fieldwork is the perfect time to cultivate it.

Before selecting a fieldwork placement, I suggest making a list of concrete skills or experiences you wish to gain beyond your school’s requirements or your desire for more work experience.  This can help you narrow down your search and give more focused responses during your interviews.  Once you receive your placement, you can tweak your list to make it more specific to your job assignment and work site.  Don’t forget to share your list with your preceptor, ask for input and revisit it periodically with him or her throughout the course of your placement.

Remember, fieldwork is an extended audition for future employment.  Be on your best behavior.  Here are ten tips to help you exude professionalism:

  1. Be on time.  Better yet, be early!
  2. Maintain a neat and well-groomed appearance.  Dress for success, even if the workplace observes casual Fridays.
  3. Stay off social media and shopping websites while at work.
  4. Proofread your e-mails.  Use formal language and proper capitalization.  Do not use texting abbreviations or emoticons.
  5. Do not text or play on your phone even if everyone else seems to be doing it.
  6. If you need to take a personal call, make sure you find a private place to speak.
  7. Always carry a notepad and pen, and take good notes.  You don’t want to overlook assigned tasks or have someone repeat instructions to you.
  8. After receiving instructions, verify that you have taken accurate notes and seek clarification if necessary.
  9. Update your preceptor regularly regarding any progress you have made on a project.
  10. If you have “nothing” to do, ask how else you can help!
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All about the upcoming APHA Annual Meeting and the APHA Student Assembly

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is holding its 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco on October 27-31, 2012.  During last year’s meeting in Washington, D.C., I attended a 2-day learning institute entitled Shaping Policy for Health™: Defining and Communicating Public Health Problems.  Learning institutes occur during the first two days of the annual meeting, before the scientific and poster sessions begin. Learning institutes provide a good opportunity to learn about a specific topic in depth and spend quality face-to-face time with the facilitators and other participants, whereas attending scientific and poster sessions are a good way to gain exposure to a variety of topics.

Of particular interest to students may be the APHA Student Assembly (SA) meeting on October 27, from 12:00-5:00pm at the Moscone Convention Center. Public health professionals and student leaders will present on public health topics and professional development.  Concurrently, there will be a speed-mentoring event from 2:30-4:30pm, in which students will have the opportunity to interact with experienced public health professionals.

There are many ways for students to become involved in APHA.  First, you can (and should!) join APHA if you haven’t already done so.  The discounted membership fee for students is $61 (as opposed to regular membership, at $200).  You must be enrolled in at least 6 credits to qualify for the student rate, and send them proof of such within a few weeks of signing up.  Once you are a student member, you will begin to receive weekly e-mail updates from APHA-SA, which include information about scholarship and professional opportunities.  Another way to become involved is to apply for a position or join a committee within APHA-SA.  This past month, I became a Membership Ambassador and will be helping to individually welcome new APHA-SA members and inform them about upcoming activities and events.  (There are many positions still available!)  You can also contribute your writing skills by submitting an article for the quarterly APHA-SA newsletter, News & Views.

Even if you are unable to attend this year’s Annual Meeting, you can follow live on Twitter at #APHA2012 and/or visit the APHA Meeting blog.  For news year-round, follow @PublicHealth (for APHA) and @APHAstudents (for APHA-SA).  Also, be sure to “like” APHA-SA on Facebook to join the community and connect with other members.

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2 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Global, National and Local Communities (before year’s end!)

The aim of public health is to improve population health and eliminate health disparities through addressing the social, educational, economic and environmental determinants of health. BUT, this mission isn’t just for public health-ers…it’s for any concerned citizen interested in making the world a better place for all.

1. Keep informed about the 67th session of the U.N. General Assembly (beginning on September 18th), particularly as the discussions relate to the eight Millenium Development Goals:

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieving universal primary education
  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women
  • Reducing child mortality rates
  • Improving maternal health,
  • Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability
  • Developing a global partnership for development

How to get involved: Become a member of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) and attend/organize educational events, Model UN programs and meetings with elected leaders.


Panel discussion on “Women’s Unfinished Business at the U.N.” in New York City on September 13, 2012 highlighting the negative impact of gender inequality on health, education and economics throughout the world.

2) Celebrate Food Day on October 24th, a nationwide movement towards healthy, affordable and sustainable food.  Its goals are to:

  • Promote safer, healthier diets
  • Support sustainable and organic farms
  • Reduce hunger
  • Reform factory farms to protect the environment
  • Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers

How to get involved: Spread the word, attend an event, volunteer for an event or host your own eventContact your local Food Day coordinator to find out how!

“Community Forum on Food Prices and Health”, October 26, 2011. Addressed how to shrink the gap between prices of healthy and unhealthy food, the political and economic factors affecting food prices, the connections between food prices and health, and available strategies for making healthy food more affordable.


Tweet me @JMCelio – would love to hear how YOU are making a difference in your community and feature your contributions in a future blog post!

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17 Best Sites for Healthy Lifestyle Advice in 2012

Top Healthy Lifestyle Site 2012

Around the world, and specifically in America, there’s an unfortunate trend of unhealthy living. People live sedentary lifestyles, and have an excessive amount of stress in their lives. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom as there are many people out there who are trying to live healthier, and happier.

For those who have decided they want to embrace a healthier lifestyle, and those who want to improve on their already healthy habits, there are a plethora of websites on the internet to choose from. The challenge then becomes finding those sites and determining which ones are the best.

We here at Master of Public Health.org have compiled a list of the 17 best sites for Healthy Lifestyle advice in 2012. We evaluated factors such as readership, search ranking, site layout, and overall usefulness for anyone interested in learning more about healthy lifestyles. We’ve put them in no particular order because they all have something fantastic to offer.

We’ve broken this list into two sections; Yoga and Running. We’re of the opinion that Yoga is a healthy lifestyle choice everyone should embrace as it helps relax the mind. Relieving stress is paramount to a healthy lifestyle. The next section is Running, one of the best physical activities one can embrace.


Stress has an extremely negative impact on your overall health. Those who live healthy lifestyles are able to keep their stress levels low, and are skilled at keeping their mind thinking positively. Yoga can help accomplish all of these goals. If you’re interested in learning more about this ancient discipline, look no further than the following sites.

  1. Yogic Muse
  2. Yoga Dudes
  3. Lexi Yoga
  4. Yoga In My School
  5. babsbabble
  6. Capricious Yogi
  7. Do Restorative Yoga


Ask anyone who lives a healthy lifestyle, and they’ll tell you that exercising regularly is extremely important. Now, there are quite a few options to choose from, but we think running is one of the best. Not only is it great for your heart and body, but it is also great for your mind. Additionally, there are a great many running communities you can become a part of. The sites below are all fantastic for anyone interested in living healthy through running.

  1. Marcia’s Healthy Slice
  2. Old Man Running
  3. Lexi Yoga
  4. Trail Zombie
  5. Can’t Stop Endurance
  6. Running Bird
  7. 2 Slow 4 Boston
  8. 5K RAE
  9. 5 Miles Past Empty
  10. Running with Attitude
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