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Three University of Kentucky College of Public Health (CPH) students were able to get real-world research experience working with Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC) faculty and staff.

“Student exposure to research is important to their development as future researchers,” said Dana Quesinberry, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the College of Public Health. “Real-life experience allows students to apply knowledge learned in their curriculum in a manner that solidifies their knowledge but also highlights for them what else they need to learn.”

The students--Bailey Schenk, Grace Bush, and Alyssa Dian--worked on various projects during the Fall 2021 semester as part of the CPH 395 Undergraduate Research Program. Dr. Sarah Vos, who coordinates the program, said that students are chosen based on performance in previous public health classes, a writing sample, and interest in particular research topics. Students who apply for the program can express interest in working with researchers at KIPRC and other centers.

“My time working with KIPRC has been all virtual, yet I still feel like I have gotten so much valuable insight as to what a career in public health can translate to in the real world,” said Schenk, a senior working toward her Bachelor’s in Public Health (BPH). “Having experience collaborating with multiple KIPRC team members to approve and put out the resource guides and data, attending routine meetings with team members, and setting deadlines and goals for the project really helped prepare me for the collaborative initiatives that I will likely encounter in my future work in public health. This opened my eyes to how collaboration with professionals in fields outside of public health can only strengthen our approach and create more comprehensive solutions to address health issues and disparities within our community.”

Bush, a junior working toward her BPH, said her project has allowed her to see how data collection can come to life.

“As a public health student, I am passionate about incorporating preventative measures into practice as a future health care provider,” Bush added. “The data that we used from this project was gathered in a medical setting and is being used by KIPRC to prevent further drug overdoses and brain injuries. It shows that public health is all-encompassing and can truly be used to improve lives both in our state and beyond. I am incredibly proud to work under the College of Public Health as they lead the state in public health research.”

For Dian, a senior working toward a degree in public health as well as a certificate in clinical healthcare management and health communications, her project has helped prepare her for future work in public health, as data analysis is a vital component in public health.

“This project allowed me to gain a better understanding of how different factors/disparities may lead to negative health outcomes,” Dian said. “I also learned how to speak up and ask for help when something is not going as planned, which will be very beneficial for future work in public health.”

Schenk has been working with Quesinberry and Sarah Hargrove, the Drug Overdose Fatality Surveillance System Project Manager, as they build county-specific substance misuse resource guides that will be mailed to coroner’s offices across Kentucky. The guides feature county-specific toxicology report data so the coroners will have a population level view of the substances involved in fatal overdoses in their counties. Schenk said the guides compile treatment and recovery resources for coroners to utilize and provide to their community.

“The long-term goal of these guides would be to provide a succinct and centralized compilation of credible substance misuse resources and to get them into the hands of people who need them most,” Schenk said.

Bush worked with Quesinberry and Shannon Beaven as they study the prevalence of hypoxic brain injuries and illicit drug abuse, specifically opioid overdose. She said the research question they are assessing is the intersection of brain injury and overdose to hopefully garner answers to the bigger question of  whether a brain injury is the result of an overdose or an overdose is due to a substance abuse disorder cooccurring with  a brain injury. 

“It was an incredible experience to be a part of the beginning stages of a project that could give back to our commonwealth,” Bush said.

Dian is currently working with Jacqueline Seals to update data on the violent deaths that occurred in Kentucky from 2005–2019 and entering that data into the Kentucky Violent Death Reporting System (KYVDRS). She has created tables to keep track of the suicides, homicides, accidental gun deaths, legal interventions, and undetermined deaths that occurred in Kentucky based on gender, age, race, education, and geographical location.

“KIPRC is a great organization between the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the University of Kentucky College of Public Health,” Dian said. “I enjoyed my experience at KIPRC and I am so glad I got the opportunity to work with them on this project.”

KIPRC is a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health. KIPRC serves both as an academic injury prevention research center and as the DPH’s designee or “bona fide agent” for statewide injury prevention and control.