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Gillings seminar on Advocacy for Public Health

By Arshya Gurbani, M.A. candidate 2018

On January 18th, I attended a timely panel on Advocacy for Public Health: Crafting Richer Message in a Turbulent Political Climate.  The event was hosted by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  With inauguration just two days away and the results of the November election still freshly divisive, the subject drew me in. I was impressed by how well the panel worked together to present a unified theme: that public health unites individuals from various fields—law, faith, policy, and moral philosophy—to frame messages and taken action around shared interests. Each speaker made a point that set up the following speaker, in a way that is sometimes absent from panel-style presentations.

The panel included:

-Scott Buris, JD, Beasley School of Law, Temple University

-Gene Matthews, JD, Network for Public Health, UNC Chapel Hill

-Sue Lynn Ledford, RN BSN MPA DrPH, Director Wake County Public Health Division

-Dr. Gary Gunderson, VP FaithHealth Wake Forest Baptist Health

They spoke about the need for collaboration of ideas even in a technical field like law–inspiration comes from all sorts, even though strategy may be left to lawyers. They spoke to the fact that the political issues that polarize us are a small fraction of the ones around which we can unite. They discussed the spectrum of moral values (based on Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory, which identifies and explains 6 moral foundations that guide human decisions) and how it relates to political liberals and conservatives values and perceptions.

I’ve included a link to the lecture below, so I won’t get into the nitty gritty here. The key takeaway was that a message must resonate within a “moral community in stress” while preserving its institutions and traditions. What struck me most was the animation with which the speakers presented their points. Peppering in personal anecdotes throughout the panel, and staying back after the lecture to speak one-on-one with any curious participants…it was clear how invested each speaker was.

At one point, the novel Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was brought up as an example of the power of subconscious representative models–having never read the book, it went over my head, but I saw folks in the audience nodding in agreement at this revelation! Whether or not you agree with the views presented, it was refreshing to see a passionate panel and engaged audience talk through a nuanced subject.

Link to webinar:






Networking the New Normal: Confronting Illness through Social Media

GUEST BLOGGER: Terri Beth Miller, PhD

This is not how you expected life to be. You’re run down. You’re hurting. You’re physically and emotionally drained. And it feels as though those closest to you are a million miles away, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

This is what it can feel like when you are confronting illness, when a diagnosis suddenly transports you to a new world you never wanted to visit, let alone permanently inhabit.

The truth is that illness, whether physical or psychological, chronic or acute, can be one of the most frightening, disorienting, and isolating experiences a person can face. And yet, if we live long enough, we will all confront this experience. After all, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.

But diagnosis doesn’t have to mean disaster. Our 21st century world offers resources once unimaginable to those seeking health information and support. Few are more potent than the vast social media networks available to connect people in the most far-flung corners of the globe with the simple click of a button.

This seemingly limitless connection can be an infinite comfort for those who are suffering from illness, allowing survivors to reach out to fellow survivors, who often can understand illness in a way that those who haven’t experienced it simply cannot. After all, family and friends may empathize. They certainly can provide a love and comfort that the virtual world cannot replace. But there is a special and necessary connection shared by those have felt the gnawing at the bones, the torment of the mind—by those who have the visceral, intimate experience of real, bloody, hand-to-hand combat with illness. This is the connection that social media can offer to those suffering from illness, a means to overcome the isolation that can cut as deeply as sickness itself.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow survivors, social media is an exceptional outlet for sharing health information and resources, from exploring treatment options to connecting with care-providers. After all, an informed patient is an empowered patient. Because those who are suffering from ill health often feel a tremendous lack of control and a vast feeling of uncertainty for the future, this access to knowledge can restore the sense of self-determination and understanding that survivors knew before diagnosis. These resources can restore some normalcy, or at least something of a return of the survivor’s sense of self.

Nevertheless, extreme caution must be practiced. We are perhaps never more vulnerable than when we are battling illness, and unfortunately those who would prey on the hopes and fears of the desperate are legion. So while it is healthy—and, indeed, essential—to seek out all the knowledge and resources possible when battling illness, it is equally essential to be wary of promises that are simply too good to be true. Vet the company you keep and the treasures you store up in the virtual world just as you do in the physical one.  Avail yourself of the immense resources available to you online as you wage your battle with sickness. But do so from a position of strength and discernment. This is your body. This is your mind. This is your spirit and your life. Harness the best and highest powers of social media. There is tremendous solace, solidarity, and support to be found online for those battling illness, but only for those who use it wisely.

For more information on the most beneficial mental health online resources, please visit:

Terri Beth Miller completed a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing and literature courses for more than a decade and is a regular contributor to the mental health self-help portal. View her profile on LinkedIn at

STI or STD: What Is The Difference?



If your work involves talking to people about sexual health, you must be talking to them about STDs. Or STIs. Or both. Right?

As the great STD-STI terminology challenge continues, just about everyone has had to choose one term or the other. Well, everyone except for the people who use both interchangeably to mean the same thing. Or those folks who use each in distinct ways to mean different things.

Many well-informed experts make absolutely no distinction between STI and STD. Others feel the distinctions are real and important.

For those who make a distinction, most would say STD describes a condition with visible signs and describable symptoms—a drip, an itch, a bump, fatigue. STI encompasses the broader spectrum of conditions both with and without symptoms.

There was some idea that using STI would make it clear to everyone that sexually transmitted conditions often have no symptoms. It might also lessen the stigma people frequently feel about having these conditions, making them more amenable to testing and treatment.

In actual practice, I’m not at all sure that’s happened. We now have reports that many young people believe STD refers to illnesses that can’t be cured, and STI refers to illnesses that can be.

There are sound reasons for choosing either term, or both. Which is working for you right now? Why is it best for your purposes? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. You can view this article in its entirety at

Should You Volunteer to be a Birth Doula?

Do you have a passion for women’s health? Do you want to help laboring women endure a positive birth experience? Are you compassionate, supportive, and caring?

If you answered yes to one of more of these questions, you may be a great fit as a volunteer birth doula. What is a birth doula you ask?  The word “doula” comes from a Greek word meaning “woman helper.”  Today, a doula is a supportive companion, trained to give support during labor.

You may be wondering, well how is a doula is different from a nurse or partner/spouse? While they too provide support and care, nurses have other responsibilities and partners/spouses may need breaks. Doulas do not take the place of these supporters, but rather work together to make up a support team. Research has shown that with continuous labor support, you and your baby are statistically more likely to have better outcomes!

While some doulas charge for their services, UNC offers a unique program that trains volunteers who then provide these services free of charge to those who would otherwise be unable to afford the care. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, learn more about how to get trained here:

Community women: Check here for upcoming training dates.

UNC Students: General training is not open to current full-time students; however, UNC students can apply for the doula service- learning course (NURS 611).

For more information about how to become a volunteer birth doula at UNC, visit their website here or e-mail For more information about doulas in general, visit

Guest Speaker Highlight: Diane Francis

Last week, Diane Francis, a doctoral candidate in the UNC School of Media and Journalism and former Upstream Blog contributor, came to speak to the current writers about her journey to the field of health communication and the subsequent research experiences that she has had during her four years as a student at UNC.

Diane has worked on research projects with topics as varied as graphic warnings on cigarette packaging, the role video games play for cancer survivors, reducing sexual concurrent partnerships to reduce the spread of HIV, and reducing young women’s embarrassment about obtaining and carrying condoms.

Although the health topics that she has worked on have varied, Diane has stayed open to the opportunities and experiences that she has encountered and says that she has learned valuable and transferable skills in each and every project. In addition, all of the projects that she has contributed to have sparked ideas for new research questions.

Pro tip- she keeps a running list of her ideas in a tab in OneNote (a strategy that I plan to adopt myself).

We enjoyed hearing Diane’s story and appreciated her taking a break from preparing her dissertation to share it with us. We wish her the best of luck as she transitions to a new phase in her research and career!

A Smoothie a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

The weather is warming up, which for me means many more smoothies to start my day. Smoothies are known to have a variety of health benefits, providing a variety of vitamins and oils essential for good nutrition. However, before you run to the nearest smoothie bar, it’s important to be weary when buying pre-made smoothies, as they can reach up to 75 grams of sugar! The best way to make sure your smoothie is full of nutrients and low on sugar is to make them yourself. Here are a few of my favorite at-home healthy smoothie recipes:

Banana Green SmoothieThis is one of my favorite breakfast smoothies, especially after a long weekend of eating not-so-healthy food. With only 13.8 grams of sugar and only 255 calories, this smoothie is full of nutrients to boost your energy and make you feel good.

Strawberry Almond Smoothie: Another breakfast favorite (also good for a mid-day snack!), this simple and easy smoothie is made with just four ingredients.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Shake: This smoothie is great when you’re craving something sweet and chocolatey. Filled with protein and only 21 grams of sugar, this is a great substitute for that piece of chocolate cake or pint of ice-cream.

So while it can be tempting to grab a smoothie from a local store, remember that making them at home can be just as quick and easy, and will even save you money! Happy blending!

Is It A Cold Or Allergies?

With the beautiful trees and flowers in bloom this Spring season, also come the agents that make us cough, sniffle, and sneeze. And while the symptoms are always frustrating, for many of us, it’s sometimes hard to tell if what we’re suffering from is a cold or simply allergies. According to a recent survey conducted by Allegra D, 65% of people didn’t always know if they had one or the other, making it difficult to treat with OTC treatment. So before you head to the pharmacy to pick up meds or Kleenex, consider the following symptoms and see where they fall in the “Cold/Allergy Venn Diagram.


The Morning After Pill (and more): options for emergency contraception


Did the condom break? Did you forget to take your pill a few times this month and have unprotected sex? Were you somehow coerced into having unprotected sex? Did you know that you can stop a pregnancy before it starts using emergency contraception? Here’s a quick guide to the available methods listed in order of effectiveness.

Copper IUD (ParaGard IUD)

  • The most effective form of emergency contraception
  • Can be inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex
  • Will lower chance of pregnancy by 99.9%
  • You can keep using this to prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years after insertion


  • Newest form of emergency contraception in the United States
  • Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive
  • Requires a prescription from a doctor or nurse
  • Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and does not decrease in effectiveness over those 5 days
  • After using, use back-back up birth control (such as condoms) for 14 days
  • May not work as well if you need emergency contraception because you made a mistake with your birth control pills

Plan B or Next Choice

  • Available over the counter or online without a prescription
  • Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day
  • Do not use if you have already used ella since your last period

Remember that you cannot use two different kinds of emergency contraceptives at the same time and that you should not take more than one dose of emergency contraception. Also remember that this is emergency contraception, and these methods should not be used as your normal contraceptive method (unless of course you choose to leave the copper IUD in). Also, emergency contraception is intended to prevent a pregnancy before it starts and is not intended to terminate an already existing pregnancy.

Visit the Planned Parenthood website for more information.

Social workers are key players in health care teams.


March is National Social Work Month and although the month is nearly over, the importance of social workers and other members of integrated care teams deserve recognition and appreciation year-round.


Integrated health care teams consist of a range of different professionals such as physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, occupational and physical therapists, etc. who work together to create comprehensive strategies for the care of a patient based on their physical, mental, and social needs. It is a more comprehensive form of patient care that centers on the importance of communication between various providers to address all of the factors that influence a person’s health in one integrated plan.


Social workers are particularly well-suited to participating in these more holistic approaches to health care. Social workers are specifically trained to focus on and address the social determinants of health. These determinants include aspects of people’s lives (i.e. social, environmental, economic, etc.) that affect their health, beyond individual biology or individual behavioral decisions. This is key since health is as much about home environment and life struggles as it is about physiology.


Social workers can provide the psychosocial services that help people to work through challenging situations or connect them with resources to overcome issues such as poverty, abuse, addiction, physical illness, loss, unemployment, educational problems, disability, and mental illness.


Because they have access to these critical insights about a patient’s life, social workers are able to share information with other members of the health care team which could help to inform a more effective, or more manageable treatment plan for that particular patient based on their unique situation.


So, if you know or work with a social worker, remember to thank them for their contributions, not just in March, but year-round!