Bridging the Gap: Students and Professionals in Peer Support
By Clayton Velicer,
Health Behavior and Health Education
As Peers for Progress continues to collaborate with peer support programs around the globe there is an increased opportunity for students to become involved and gain valuable work experience in peer support and establish connections with PFP partners. At the University of North Carolina the MPH program affords its’ student this opportunity by having a practicum requirement in the summer between the first and second years of the program. This practicum can be either 200, 300 or 400 hours of work experience in the field that allows a student to set up a series of deliverables for the organization and North Carolina by creating a learning contract in the spring. This past summer Peers for Progress sent 6 students to projects including sites in China, Mexico and Australia for their practicum projects.
I was one of these students and spent 3 months working for the Australasian Peers for Progress Diabetes Project at Monash University in Melbourne Australia. This blog will briefly share some of my experiences with this project and allow other Peers for Progress partners the opportunity to read about the kinds of activities students can become involved in at placements in future years.
After arriving in Melbourne in May I was quickly caught up to speed on the project through a series of meetings with the program director and members of the research team. I was provided copies of all education materials included in the intervention, trained on physical data collection methods such as taking blood pressure and measuring waist circumference and informed of developments with the project to date. I then accompanied a member of our research team to the community intervention and control sites throughout Victoria and assisted in collecting the physical data and 6 month questionnaires. This provided a unique experience unavailable in my previous education training to interact with the peer leaders and participants of an ongoing multilevel intervention directly at a community basis.
At the same time my program’s training in qualitative methods provided me with background experience and knowledge for transcribing and coding interviews and focus groups. This allowed me to take on a personal project for the program with the teleconferences that had occurred between the peer leaders and the research teams as a means of ongoing support for the first six months of the study. My presence on site allowed me the time to transcribe and code 15 transcripts and examine the kinds of support that had been delivered during these calls. The summary of this analysis is a paper on ongoing support for peer supporters currently being drafted fostering ongoing collaboration between the University of North Carolina and the University of Monash in Melbourne. An abstract for this paper has also been submitted for poster presentation at the Society of Behavioral Medicine in the Spring of 2012.
Overall I have found the experience to be involved in a peer support project as a researcher while still a student to be an extremely rewarding experience that has allowed me to develop my professional network and become a larger part of Peers for Progress. I would encourage Peer Support Programs to think of ways they can build similar relationships with students to establish future mutually rewarding experiences.