A Look Inside the NACCHO Health and Disability Fellowship Program

Evelyn Arana, left,Tara Lutz, right.

NACCHO is currently seeking two graduate students to become the newest Health and Disability fellows. To provide potential applicants an inside look into the fellowship experience, NACCHO Health and Disability Program Analyst, Sara Lyons, interviewed the program’s two outgoing fellows. Tara Lutz and Evelyn Arana began their fellowship journey last fall. Below they share how the yearlong experience helped propel them into the next phase of their public health careers. View the fellowship flyer for more information about the program.

Sara Lyons: What were the most useful parts of the fellowship?

Evelyn Arana: The most useful part of the fellowship for me was learning about the different resources to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in all public health efforts at local health departments. Having this knowledge and background has prepared me even further for a career in promoting the health of people with disabilities.

Tara Lutz: I had the unique opportunity to be both a NACCHO fellow and a LEND fellow through the UConn University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). Both programs share a theme of health and disability, but each has its own unique focus; NACCHO on local health departments and technical assistance, and LEND on creating leaders from different academic disciplines dedicated to the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities and their families. There were many times when information I learned in one fellowship complemented what I was learning in the other. I even shared resources between the two, acting as a bridge between programs and people. 

SL: What were you most surprised to learn about disability inclusion activities among local health departments?

EA: I was surprised to learn that many local health departments primarily focus their disability inclusion work in the area of emergency preparedness. Although emergency preparedness is certainly an important topic worthy of inclusion promotion, this realization further emphasized the need for NACCHO’s health and disability fellowship and technical assistance programs. As a NACCHO fellow it also invigorated me even more to help support local health officials in broadening their inclusion efforts across other programs such as physical activity and women’s healthcare.

TL: I was most surprised about all of the programs and activities local health departments are already doing that promote inclusion of people with disabilities. While each local health department requested technical assistance for their own unique needs, a common theme among all their calls was their strong desire to “be better” at inclusion. It was so rewarding to be able to speak directly with “public health doers” and provide them with technical support and share with them resources from other LHDs and organizations that may be helpful to them.

SL: What networking experiences were you able to accomplish as part of the fellowship?

EA: I was able to network with disability public health professionals at the Disability Policy Seminar as a result of this fellowship, including individuals from the Temple Institute of Health and the Arc of Philadelphia.

TL: Being a fellow for both NACCHO and LEND allowed me to participate in multiple networking experiences. I attended the Disability Policy Summit and Seminar in D.C. with LEND while members of NACCHO’s Health & Disability program were also present. As a NACCHO fellow I attended the Preparedness Summit over several days in April in Atlanta, GA where I got to learn from the very professionals I was providing technical assistance to in their areas of expertise. I made connections with colleagues at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), as well as many others while participating in NACCHO-related activities. These connections have already proven valuable in terms of future collaboration and partnerships beyond this fellowship.

SL: How will your participation in this fellowship impact your career?

EA: This fellowship has empowered me to always consider the needs of people with disabilities. It has also shown me that there is still much work to be done in the area of public health disability inclusion. As a result, I feel both prepared and inspired to continue pursuing a career in this field.

TL: Participating in this fellowship expanded my knowledge about the scope of responsibilities of local health departments and the diverse range of needs each agency must address to effectively serve the unique populations residing within their jurisdictions. By providing technical assistance and attending the Preparedness Summit (click here to read Tara’s blog about attending the 2017 Preparedness Summit) I now also have experience related to public health emergency preparedness. Furthermore, completing this fellowship remotely from Connecticut and working with LHDs from across the country, greatly enhanced my communication and collaboration skills, which are sure to be invaluable within the next phase of my career.

SL: What are your next steps in your public health career upon completion of the fellowship?

EA: I will be working at the City University of New York School of Public Health & Health Policy on a mental health initiative to promote mental healthcare access for all individuals.

TL: I am wrapping up my dissertation and will defend it by the end of summer to complete my Ph.D. in public health at University of Connecticut (UConn). After that, I will be staying with UConn’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and working on the Disability Studies in Public Health Online Graduate Certificate program.

NACCHO strongly encourages current graduate or doctoral students interested in the disability and health field to view the fellowship program flyer and apply today! Local health officials and partners who may know eligible applicants are asked to please share this opportunity widely across their networks. For more information, please view the fellowship program flyer and the full position description/application. Both can also be accessed by visiting NACCHO’s Health and Disability webpage.

The NACCHO Health and Disability Fellowship is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cooperative Agreement #5NU38OT000172-04-00 and the NACCHO Disability and Health program.