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Rabies Preparedness in Finland

Last spring, Heidi Vesterinen took the Acara course GCC 5501 Knowledge to Impact: Creating Action with your Grand Challenge Project Idea. Heidi practiced as a veterinarian in Finland before deciding to work in veterinary public health and pursue a Masters degree at UMN. During her studies she focused on a project for rabies preparedness improvement in her home country. Here’s what Heidi has to say about this project and her time with Acara.

As an executive MPH student, I got connected with a research group at the University of Minnesota who had developed the One Health Systems Mapping and Analysis Resource toolkit (OH-SMART). I realized that this toolkit might be useful even in my home country Finland. The Knowledge to Impact course helped me put together a plan on how to share this toolkit with experts in Finland while simultaneously improving Finland’s national rabies preparedness plans.

In health systems, there’s often some  lack of trust from field to field, or organization to organization. This stems from a lack of understanding about what other health professionals do, what their expertise actually is. Each health field also has different norms about communication and behavior. If you aren’t aware of them, they end up being invisible barriers to collaboration. OH-SMART helps make them visible so you’re able to climb over them.

I traveled to Finland with two other young Public Health professionals, Francesca Contadini and Katelyn Wuebbolt Macy, to train 12 experts in Finland how to use OH-SMART. They were all from different disciplines with some connection to rabies and infectious diseases in general. This training helped us prepare for a workshop with 40 participants where we mapped out how a rabies outbreak might pan out in Finland.

Personally, for me the most measurable outcome from these workshops was not related to the content, but actually was the change in atmosphere in the room. It went from attentive silence to very active discussions and problem solving, with people making new connections with other professionals. There was a buzz in the room as people continued talking.

I believe the workshop gave room to  build new understanding and ability to collaborate, make decisions, and solve problems together. Additionally, the 12 people we gave specific training on the toolkit, are equipped to use OH-SMART for future collaboration with other professionals.

Based on my experience, here is some advice to my fellow students hoping to create change within complex systems and issues.

  1. Take classes like GCC 5501: Knowledge to Impact because you learn a lot and also have accountability to work on your project to create change! This particular course also has opportunities for project funding, which I was lucky to receive.
  2. Send out applications for travel and student project grants. There are all sorts of grants available for a couple thousand dollars. It might seem unachievable, but from my experience you can get them. Be brave and put your words and ideas out there!
  3. Do not be afraid to talk about any issues you have, and reach out for help. There are multiple challenges you have to go through to make your idea successful, and figuring out what you don’t know is one of them. So ask for help. I would have never gone through with my project without the massive amount of help I asked for.

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