On Your Mark... Get Set... APHA!

Oct 29, 2012, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Melody S. Goodman, PhD, is a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections program (2007), and an assistant professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. This post is the first in a series in which RWJF scholars, fellows and alumni who are attending the American Public Health Association annual meeting reflect on the experience.


On your mark…. get set…. APHA!  Yes it is that time of year again for the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting & exposition.  Are you ready for all things public health?! 

APHA is my favorite conference to attend because it fulfills all of my public health senses.  I am a biostatistician interested in health disparities doing community-based participatory research (yes you read that correctly).  APHA is the one conference that speaks to all my research interests in one place.  There is no other conference that allows me to go to theta beta land with my statistics friends in the Applied Public Health Statistics Section and then discuss developing community-academic partnerships with both community and academic colleagues in the Community-Based Public Health Caucus (CBPHC).  Last year I served as the academic program planner for the CBPHC and this year I am section council of the Statistics section.

Some people say they don’t like APHA because it is too big but the New Yorker in me loves every moment of it.  I always arrive at the conference early and grab that phonebook-like program and attack it with a highlighter and sticky tabs the way only a true nerd could.  I spend an hour or so planning my life over the next few days; noting when and where I am presenting, where my colleagues and students are presenting and finding other scientific sessions I am interested in attending. Then I take a walk around the convention center locating the rooms where I will be presenting.  This makes life easier when over 10,000 people are walking though hallways, many of them lost; I don’t have to be one of them.

Prior to arriving at the meeting I try to schedule lunches and dinners with old friends that I only get to see once a year at this conference.  It is a jam packed four days of presentations and networking.  APHA is to conference what New York is to cities; it’s a metropolis.  I love the hustle and bustle of the meeting, people rushing around the convention center and area hotels and restaurants.  I’ve been to APHA every year since 2007. I use my presentations at the conference to get feedback on my work.  The time in between scientific sessions and business meetings I use to catch up with friends and mentors.

This year I will be presenting my work on the association between racial composition among several social settings throughout the life course (e.g., junior high school, high school, neighborhood growing up, current neighborhood, place of worship) and adult obesity in women. This work aligns with the conference theme of Prevention and Wellness Across the Life Span.  I will also be presenting my work evaluating the mobile mammography outreach efforts of the Siteman Cancer Center Breast Health Center and a review of the race-based health disparities measurement literature.

I know it seems overwhelming at first but, like the New York City subway system, once you learn the ropes you don’t know how you could ever live without it. In fact, APHA is as diverse as the New York City subway, bringing together researchers, community members, practitioners, advocates, policy-makers and others.  Many other conferences we go to are discipline-specific, so we are segregated with people who are like us—but APHA is integrated and you will meet many people in different aspects of public health.  I look forward to it.

For my perspective and updates on the conference, follow me on twitter @goodmanthebrain.

Learn more about the RWJF New Connections program.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.