What do Zombies and a Victorian-era museum featuring restraints as mental health tools have to do with public health education?
On this episode of the NNLM Discovery podcast, Region 7’s associate director, Jessica Kilham, shares how NNLM is supporting “Outbreak,” a summer program at the Public Health Museum in Tewksbury, MA that teaches high school students about public health. The final project for the week is an outbreak simulation for a zombie apocalypse!
You can view a short video about the story here on the NLM YouTube Channel.
The NNLM is the outreach arm of the National Library of Medicine with the mission to advance the progress of medicine and improve the public health by providing all U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving the public's access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health. The seven Health Sciences Libraries function as the Regional Medical Library (RML) for their respective region, with Region 7 consisting of: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. To learn more about Region 7 visit: http://www.nnlm.gov/about/regions/region7.
All of the artwork for this podcast series has been created with a generative AI image-to-image tool! The prompt for this episode was to change a photo of the Tewksbury hospital “into a colorful oil painting.”
Join Outreach Services Librarian, Yamila El-Khayat, for new episodes of the NNLM Discovery podcast. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or listen on our website www.nnlm.gov/podcast. Please be sure to like, rate, and review the show!
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I’m librarian Yamila El-Khayat and this is NNLM Discovery a podcast from the Network of the National Library of Medicine. This podcast series explores how NNLM is improving the public’s health by communicating in new ways. Today’s episode is, “Outbreak!,” a story from Region #7. Associate Director of Region #7, Jessica Kilham, will be joining us today. Hi Jessica!
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Hi, Yamila. It's so nice to finally meet you.
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Nice to meet you, too. So, Outbreak, you've already grabbed my attention. Which outbreak are we talking about today?
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Well, we aren't talking about the COVID kind. We'll be discussing something much more fun than that. Zombie outbreaks.
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I love it. I would much rather talk about zombies instead of COVID.
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Agreed. We'll get to the zombies, though, in a minute. But let's start our story in another fun setting at the old Tewksbury State Hospital in Massachusetts, which was built in 1895.
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How cool. But, I've never heard of Tewksbury.
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Well, Tewksbury is about 30 minutes north of Boston. The old Tewksbury State hospital grounds were established in 1854, on an 800 acre campus that still houses a modern day hospital. The centerpiece of the campus is the old administrative building, which we visited. Today, the administrative building houses something else that's very unique. It's the first museum in the country to focus on public health.
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Zombies and a Victorian era museum! This sounds like the perfect NNLM Discovery podcast episode.
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I totally agree. Dr. Al DeMaria, President of the Public Health Museum and Epidemiologist for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, was our tour guide.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
Welcome to the Public Health Museum. As we enter the museum, we're in the reception area of the Tewksbury Hospital. This building was built in 1895 as the sort of headquarters of the hospital and the museums very fortunate to have this facility for the space for our museum.
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So the tour included a room dedicated to infectious disease, a room focused on mental health, and a room dedicated to public health nurses.
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What were some of the coolest artifacts at the museum?
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Oh, easy. Hands down in the center of the infectious disease room was a giant iron lung machine. That device was used to treat patients with polio. Another thing that was memorable was in the mental health room, where there were multiple drawers filled with restraints. Al reminded us that restraints were the primary treatment for patients with mental illness up until recently. Here again is Dr. Al DeMaria, talking about the purpose of the Public Health Museum.
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and describing what public health is.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
So the dream of the founders of this museum was to have a place where people could learn about public health, because we know the general public knows very little about public health. Unless something happens in their lives that give them a direct connection. Well, you know, many people think that public health is like their medical care, their hospital.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
And those are parts of the public health system, but it's much more than that. It's the kinds of things, it’s protecting the food supply, it’s making sure that the environment is as safe as possible. It's making sure that kids don't get lead poisons, it’s making sure that immunizations are delivered effectively to reduce the impact of disease, it’s making sure that the water supply is safe.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
It's all of these things that contribute to the safety and health of populations. So it's designed to prevent disease, promote health and protect people from threats.
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Wow. I bet there's much more awareness now about public health after going through a pandemic.
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Very true. Al did say that there's much more awareness now about public health and the role it plays with infectious disease. But like he mentioned, there is so much more to the field. In 2013, when the world was monitoring an Ebola outbreak, the Public Health Museum started a summer program for high school students called Outbreak.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
Outbreak is a summer program that started in 2013 as an experiment to bring high school students in and teach them about public health. Because nobody hears about public health until they go to public health school, and it's kind of too late. If you didn't know you're interested in public health, you’d never get there. So we wanted to introduce public health to high school students.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
So we started a program to bring high school students in, give them an intensive one week course on public health, and eventually the NNLM supported us with an NLM grant to do that for three years. Then the pandemic happened and we shifted gears to a virtual program.
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Awesome. Now I understand where zombies might be coming in. So what did the NNLM grant provide to Outbreak?
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So Outbreak is a free program that requires grants and sponsors to make sure it remains free. Our NNLM grant was awarded to them for three years. The first two years was focused on providing free transportation to students coming from outside the Tewksbury area, as well as funding transportation for various field trips during the week. For example, the students went to the State Laboratory Institute.
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The third year of funding was in 2020, so our funding really helped to provide the licenses and equipment for the museum to transition to a virtual summer program. We talked to former outbreak participant, Teri Clover, about her experience in the program.
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So Outbreak, I think is just a really great way to introduce high school students to the variety of public health fields and career paths that they can choose from. I actually didn't know anything about public health before coming Outbreak. Besides, you know, what the CDC does and really baseline understanding, I did not know much before then. It completely changed my career path.
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When I was in college, I went to BU. I was still very much thinking about being a doctor and going to medical school, but I had actually become an EMT for a couple of years throughout college. And while I loved hands on patient care and that one-on-one care, I wanted to do something that had a bigger system level impact.
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And actually Al kind of opens up outbreak every year with a quote that has stuck with me every year, which is that, “doctors have the ability to change their patient’s lives and public health has the ability to change the world.” So it's just population health that makes such a big impact to so many people. That's when I started thinking public health.
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Teri went on to earn her master's degree in Public Health from Boston University. She's now working for Cambridge Health Alliance, doing emergency preparedness and management for the Boston metro area.
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The program worked. Teri knew nothing about public health and now she's in the field.
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Not only that, she stayed connected with the program as a peer mentor in college, and now she's actually teaching a course in Outbreak on what she currently does, emergency preparedness.
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Her excitement is contagious.
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Yeah, it is.
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I wish I had a program like this in high school. Did you hear from any other students?
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Yeah, we did. Here's Laura Kostis , who attended in 2015 and Molly Robertson, who attended in 2013, sharing their experience of attending Outbreak.
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My name's Laura Kostis and I attended Outbreak in 2015. Outbreak was a blast. I had absolutely no idea what public health was when I went to it. My mom saw a flier from my high school for it, and she encouraged me to try it. She knew that I was interested in medicine. Outbreak is really the reason that I pursued this MPH, so I'm obviously going to PA school.
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That's my main career. But Outbreak is the reason that I decided to get the master's in Public Health as well. So it was that one weeklong program that really introduced me to the field and made me want to pursue the career that I'm now pursuing.
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Something that they do really well was they brought in different, like intersections of public health. It wasn't just like, you know, vaccine clinics. It was also like environmental and occupational health, which is like something that a lot of people don't even notice. They also, I remember, brought in like sunscreen safety one day and they just like and like, you know, tick borne diseases and like this how we check for triple E in the area.
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And I think they do a great job at presenting the entire field of global health and public health in such a short period of time without students feeling like very overwhelmed. Personally, my like end goal for like my career is to kind of look at how climate change is ultimately going to influence like infectious disease, whether that's like vector borne or just like refugees, like moving from places to place. Public health crosses over with every single thing, like economics, you know, like business travel, everything. So, yeah.
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I promised. Zombies!
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Yes. We've all been waiting.
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Here's Molly and Laura talking about their favorite part of the Outbreak program. The final project for the week is an outbreak simulation for a zombie apocalypse.
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The culmination of the camp for us was the very last day of the camp. We actually ran like an outbreak simulation and instead of having, like it as a disease, it was like a zombie apocalypse situation and we had to like, go and basically triage and like decide where to send people based on their symptoms.
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They'd be like, okay, you need like the cure, which I think we're M&M’s in a bag. But it was really fun to kind of work with like these people that you just met a week prior and kind of run like a simulation of what an outbreak would look like and just like, you know, use the knowledge that you gained over the last two weeks that you didn't even know about like a month ago and be like, all right, that wasn't real.
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But I get how like a real situation would work now and also, like, respect the people that are put in these often high stress situations a lot more.
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I remember during the last day of Outbreak, I actually, we did a pandemic situation and this was obviously way before 2020, and we all just kind of looked at each other and we're like, this could never happen nowadays. It's, everything's too advanced. Technology is here. We know the science. I don't know why we’re even talking about it. And then lo and behold, like five years later, I found myself working on the front lines of one.
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So definitely take everything you can from those experiences. It's a really great program.
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So we provided financial funding for three years to the program, but we've been associated with Outbreak much longer than that. We've had NNLM staff members provide training to the students.
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What kind of training do you provide?
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We teach the students about how to use MedlinePlus and PubMed so they can have access to reliable, peer reviewed sources of information for their projects. Here's Teri and Al again and how they use NLM resources.
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One of the big ones that we introduced them to is PubMed, which by the way, I love PubMed. I use it all the time. I used it all the time in school. I use it all the time now. It's such a great, wonderful resource and a lot of times we'll have students do student projects at the end of the year so they can pick a public health topic that's interesting to them and kind of write a public service announcement about it.
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We're very big on making sure that students are using peer reviewed scholarly articles, and PubMed is a great resource to point them to for this.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
In medicine you use PubMed to do research. And that's why it's become even more important because in many instances health departments do not have library resources. That’s always because they can't afford to provide that. And frequently in health departments that do have libraries, the librarian is most at risk for being laid off in budget situations.
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Dr. Al DeMaria
So that’s bad. But it could be a lot worse if there weren’t other resources like NLM to sort of fill in.
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We want to end our story on an upbeat and positive note. Here's Teri one last time, wrapping up the importance of the NNLM and Outbreak relationship.
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You know, when I signed up for this program, I definitely did not think that it was going to completely impact my career and my life choices. And it did. So I'm incredibly proud of this program. I can't believe it's going to be in its 12th year, this year. It like shocks me to think that, but I'm incredibly proud of how far it's come, how many students we've been able to have.
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Being able to partner with a really great museum like this and with great organizations like the National Library of Medicine, I'm very, very proud of this.
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What a fantastic project. Thanks, Jessica, for sharing this story.
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You are so welcome. Yamila. It's been personally uplifting to see so many young people get inspired to join the field of public health.
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We've also made a short video of this story where you can see the Public Health Museum, a few of its artifacts, and learn more about this Outbreak program. Check the show notes for a link to YouTube.
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Yamila, I just wanted to add that Region 7 is looking for projects like this one to fund. Please reach out if you have a project that is looking for funding to improve access to health information.
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Jessica, you're stealing my ending. It was great to have you on the show today.
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Thank you so much, Yamila, for inviting us.
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Thank you. NNLM offers many funding opportunities. Contact your local regional rep or search for grants that are available now at: nnlm.gov/funding to learn more. This is NNLM Discovery. Thank you for listening.