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In 2013, the Tompkins County Health Department approached Ithaca College’s Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education through Professor Mary Bentley to collaborate on a Point of Dispensing (POD) simulation as an emergency preparedness exercise. This partnership has since expanded to include three opportunities for HPPE students to connect directly with the public health department during their undergraduate years.

The event uses the annual flu vaccine for the all-college community as a form of researching and simulating the challenges faced if there were ever the need for a community-wide emergency event. Of course, this POD had the added benefit of providing the annual flu vaccine to a significant number of staff, administrators, and faculty for the first 3 years. Student were included beginning last year. Our team has provided over 3000 vaccines over this time.

During the first four years, over 120 undergraduate and graduate students have been trained as Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers and were involved in the annual POD exercise. In addition, at least 11 students have been placed in Tomkins County Health Department internships supervised by Nina Saeli. These interns were supervised by HPPE faculty member Julie Boles. Three of these students were hired by the Health Department as project assistants and have moved on to other jobs in the health field. Another benefit of this collaborative relationship is the introduction of our first-year students to emergency preparedness via a case study approach developed by faculty member Christina Moylan and presented in our Foundations of Public Health course.

Ithaca College is one of three colleges in central New York (CNY) that conducts an annual vaccination exercise; the other two colleges held their exercise after hearing about the Ithaca College events though regional and local preparedness meetings. Ithaca College is the ONLY college in New York State that trains students to be part of the MRC, a national volunteer organization that supports public health emergencies. Significantly, the 2016 vaccination exercise was executed with a staff/student ratio of 1:3. Students held three of the six key leadership roles. These facts were recognized by the NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services as a New York State “best practice” during the summer 2017 Tompkins County Emergency Preparedness Assessment.

IC’s Hammond Health Center continues to take the lead for vaccination exercises with direct planning and operational support from the Office of Public Safety Office and Emergency Management, the Department Health Promotion and Physical Education, and the Tompkins County Health Department.

Students’ comments from their participation supported the value of this ongoing collaboration. Their comments included:

The small pox bio-terrorism exercise showed me that public health jobs are no joke and that every one thing they do affects hundreds of others. It was a real eye opener actually having someone that does the job for a living take us through the process rather than just learn or examine the case by ourselves.

This case study helped me use all the skills we have learned and apply them together. We covered a lot of material and learned about many strategies, but this activity really tied it all together.

This internship has ultimately helped me develop professional as well as personally, and now I am more excited than ever about what the public health field has to offer.

Participating in the POD allowed me to first-hand see how important a team's communication and preparedness is for a public health event. Students and staff were heavily prepared for the POD each time I participated, but we always collectively discussed how we could increase our performance and reach more of our community the next time.

A few examples of alumni MRC volunteers who are currently working in health positions:

Krista Vrabel '16 - Performance Improvement Analyst: Krista works at the Commonwealth Health Care Alliance.

Angela Grumley '17 - Research Study Assistant, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Currently applying for MSN programs to be a nurse practitioner.

Francesca Mendez '18 - MPH candidate, New York University, NYU-Langone Health: Currently working on research and education for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.