Lisa Wehr's Public Health Blog

Lisa is originally from Sigourney, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Music in 2010. She is currently a first year Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student in community and behavioral health (CBH). Lisa works on the medicine-psychiatry unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Through this blog Lisa hopes to let people learn about the CBH department.

This student blog is unedited and does not necessarily reflect the views of the College of Public Health or the University of Iowa.

10 October 2012

World Mental Health Day

Those of you who know me know that mental health is a topic that I am passionate about, which is why I wanted to write a bit about it today.

What many people don't know is how my experience with mental health began and why it is so dear to my heart. My mother has struggled with severe depression for many years and was hospitalized numerous times throughout my childhood. That sparked my desire to work in mental health. Later, (my sophomore year in college) I got my first job working in psychiatry. I haven't left psych since then. I truly do love it. I love psych patients and I love the people who choose to work with them.

Oftentimes, I feel like mental health gets pushed to the back burner in public health, behind things like obesity. Actually, mental health gets pushed to the back through the entire health care system. But it shouldn't be. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability in the world (NAMI).

I think some of this is due to our focus on prevention. How do you prevent a biological/genetic illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? The answer lies in changing our focus on prevention of the disease to prevention of the debilitation consequences of the disease. The questions then become:

  • How can we prevent those diagnosed with schizophrenia from spending their lives in mental institutions? 
  • How can we prevent the large number of comorbid physical/chronic diseases that come with mental illness?
So what can we as public health professionals do to help those with mental illness? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Increase access to mental health services, particularly in developing countries and rural areas
  • Increase the number and quality of community-based services to allow people with mental illness to be successful community members and not confined to an institution
  • Decrease the stigma associated with mental illness so more people are willing to receive treatment
  • Create programs to help people with mental illness live healthier lives to avoid chronic diseases

I'll leave you with some reading and videos on a variety of topics around mental health. Read/watch what looks interesting.

  • Ted Talk: Vikram Patel: Mental health for all by involving all

  • Ted Talk: Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness--from the inside

08 October 2012

More fun things to look at

My practicum videos!

They are all very similar in style and content. The only difference is the actual exercises done in each one.

I'll probably write more about the actual creation of them later, but I think I've probably used enough of your time with the watching already. Assuming you did watch them......because you did, right?

28 September 2012

Practicum Products

The two main products that I'm developing as part of my practicum are videos and handouts. The videos are done (as of less than an hour ago!) but I'm waiting for some feedback before I deem them finalized and ready to show off.

The handouts on the other hand have been done for a while and even given out at our health expo this earlier this month. 

This is what I started with (click to enlarge):

I found it difficult to read. There is a lot of text with very little white space or visual structure. Additionally, the two-page format (printed front and back) meant that I was constantly flipping the paper over. The workout ideas were on one side, but the pictures of the exercises were on the other. Also, there were only women models and one of the health educators actually had a student ask if these handouts were only for women because of that!

I decided to break up the information. It was too much information for one handout. My two main requirements were that they had to be one page only and they had to be grouped in a way that people would use them. Thus I ended up with handouts depicting workouts using a particular piece of equipment (e.g. stability ball, resistance band) and a handout with muscle groups (so far only a core workout, I'm currently deciding if I want to do more like arms or legs). I also went on a hunt for male fitness models (harder than it sounds). Honestly, the handouts themselves will say more than I ever could, so have a look. 

(click to enlarge)

23 September 2012


Although I am officially still an MPH student, this semester is turning out to be more of a transition into "real" work.

As I think I mentioned in my previous post, I had to take some time off this summer for personal reasons and because of that was not able to finish my practicum in time to graduate at the end of July. Because I have everything done except my practicum, this semester is a little different than most. I am not taking any classes. There were some I was interested in, but I decided that because I was busy with applications to med schools, working, and still dealing with some personal stuff, that I would take the semester off from coursework.

Without classes, then, what am I doing? I am continuing with Health Iowa at Student Health Services (where I did my practicum). I'm finishing up the last bit of video work for my practicum. I have been taking a little longer than I would have for a couple reasons: one, I won't present until December; two, the only place I have a computer capable of video editing is at home so I can't do it while I'm at work.

The practicum work is no longer my main job at Health Iowa, though. My official title is as a "student interventionist" with the BASICS program. BASICS is short for Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students. It is an intervention designed to decrease the negative consequences from drinking. BASICS takes a harm-reduction approach (as opposed to an abstinence approach) to alcohol. If you want to learn more about BASICS, it is included in SAMHSA's NREPP (National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices). I'll update more about the program we use BASICS for as I work through the semester.

In addition to working 20 hours/week at Health Iowa, I am continuing with my 20 hours/week on the med/psych unit at UIHC.

And last but not least, I'm finalizing travel plans for APHA in San Francisco at the end of October!

I'll leave you with a few pictures...

A beautiful fall day this week, crossing the Iowa River

Enjoying the dog park on another beautiful day

Some good times with friends over the summer

And my sleepy co-pilot

06 August 2012

What I've Been Watching

I will write a more in-depth post on my school/practicum in a few days. For now, I want to share these wonderful items with you all:

First, I love seeing health data presented in a beautiful and understandable (to lay-people) way. Particularly when that health data is personalized. Through Twitter I stumbled across this TEDMED video of Thomas Goetz speaking about the importance of presentation in health as well as some redesigns of how to present test results to patients.

Goetz/Wired Magazine's redesigns can be found here:

This video led me to the work of some researchers at Dartmouth who came up with a different way to present health and drug statistics. You can check that out here:

It looks like a nutrition facts label...with drug statistics:

So many people doing such neat things. Now practice needs to start catching up to research

18 May 2012


This week I started my practicum at Health Iowa at the University of Iowa Student Health Service. My main project is created a series of videos for health behaviors in college students. Since I found other people's proposals extremely helpful in finding a practicum and writing my own proposal I am posting it here. I plan to keep updating through the summer on my progress.

Project Title: Encouraging healthy behaviors in college students through technology

Organization: Health Iowa
                        Student Health Service/University of Iowa
                        Iowa City, IA 52242

Preceptor:      Tanya Villhauer
                        Associate Director for Education

Issue: The 2011 National College Health Assessment Survey found that just over half (55.2%) of University of Iowa undergraduate students meet the physical activity recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Additionally, only 3.6% of undergraduate students eat the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. 1

·         Create a series of videos aimed at healthy behaviors in a college setting (i.e. exercises that can be done in a dorm room).
§  Review data on University of Iowa students’ health behaviors and choose topics to create videos on
§  Determine how each topic will be addressed (e.g. physical activity may be addressed by exercises that can be done in a dorm room)
§  Write a script for videos
§  Record and edit videos
§  Publish videos on Health Iowa’s YouTube channel
·         Explore social media and other outlets that college students use to promote and disseminate the videos created.
§  Complete a literature review on how college students social media use and what other student college health services or health education organizations are using for social media
§  Choose a develop a social media presence to promote the videos
·         Assist in Summer Orientation by staffing the Information Fair and talking with parents/incoming students about Student Health/Health Iowa services. Participate in other health promotion activities occurring at Health Iowa.

Public Health Competencies

Social and Behavioral Sciences
College students have a unique set of social and environmental challenges, often due to living situations and student culture. This project is based on health behavior education and the social and environmental factors particular to the college student population.

Health Policy and Management
In creating and promoting these videos I will be using marketing principles to determine how to best reach my audience and which elements of the behavior are pertinent to include in the videos. Additionally, in working with other people at Health Iowa I will be learning about the principles of program planning, development, budgeting, management, and evaluation.

Communication and Informatics
Communication and informatics will be important in creating videos, both for the communication included in them and while creating them and the technology used to create and disseminate them. Also, through working with various professionals at Health Iowa I will need good communication skills.

Leadership will be used throughout many aspects of this project. It will be most prominent in working at the Information Fairs for incoming students and working with the other interns at Health Iowa and allow opportunities to engage in public health leadership goals.

Professionalism will be shown through all aspects of this project including while working with other health promotion professionals, interns, and college students.

Program Planning
Program planning skills will be needed to determine which behavioral and social factors to target in the videos. They will also be used to plan and create the videos and how they will be promoted to college students.

IRB Approval
No IRB approval is needed as no human subject research is involved.

Time Frame
This project will take place from May-July 2012


Health Iowa. 2011. The National College Health Assessment Survey: Spring 2011. Retrieved from

07 May 2012

Semester Wrap-up

Another semester in the books. Before I get too deep into my week of celebration I wanted to write a quick post. Don't worry, I took a nap and checked twitter before I came back to work on this.
Honestly, this has been one of the best semesters in my life-grad or undergrad. This semester I really grew into my own as a student and a public health professional. I practice "fake it until you make it." I haven't necessarily been faking it in the sense that I haven't done things, but I have certainly faked my confidence. This semester I finally felt confident in my ability to read, write, synthesize ideas, and work as a professional. It's a great feeling and it has me really excited to get to work on my practicum soon.
I have a couple friends considering the MPH program and my response is that I wouldn't trade these two years for anything. I realize that it's probably not the right program for everyone, but it was a perfect fit for me. I love the subject, I loved my classes, and I love the people in the department. I have said that I will never look at people the same way again. I will never look at a "frequent-flier" on the psych unit and blame them for not understanding that taking meds is a necessity to staying healthy. I now look at all the other factors involved--can they afford their prescriptions, do they have the ability to go to follow-up appointments, do they know how to take all their meds?
Technically, I'm here for another semester as I will be doing my practicum this summer, but I still wanted to show some appreciation to the program that has helped me grow so much.

25 April 2012

Iowa Governor's Conference on Public Health

Last week was busy. In addition to the building dedication on Friday, many of the CBH students attended the Iowa Governor's Conference on Public Health in Ames on Tuesday and Wednesday. I generally enjoy professional conferences. It's great to get outside of the university and see a wide variety of professionals from all corners of the state in various different professions related to public health. Part of my enjoyment probably comes from the fact that I just love talking to people about anything and everything (a characteristic my dad seems to have as well).

I went to many different sessions and tweeted from the event (you can scroll down my timeline and read the tweets with #iagovcph if you're interested). But one particular story has stuck with me for the past week. It was during a session with Dr. Richard Jackson, on environmental policy and health. Dr. Jackson told a story about a time he was driving in Atlanta (forgive me if I don't remember all the details). There was an old, hunched over, lady walking with a heavy grocery bag along the side of a busy highway. This highway only had pedestrian crosswalks every 2 miles. Dr. Jackson said he thought about her and how if she died the death would be attributed to heatstroke or a traffic accident. It wouldn't be attributed to a lack of public transportation, a lack of pedestrian crosswalks, or the accessibility of a grocery store to those without cars.

I'm not sure why this story has stuck with me so strongly. It's a powerful reminder of all the ways public health affects our lives as well as an unfortunate oversight in our system for determining immediate causes of death instead of environmental issues leading to that cause. I had been thinking about this on Sunday as I drove home from work and strangely enough I turned on IPTV that night to find a 4-hour series by Richard Jackson called "Designing Healthy Communities." I was only able to watch 1 hour of it as I had to do homework, but I would definitely like to see all the episodes at some time.

And again, I must get back to the final exam studying and paper writing waiting for me in the last two weeks of the semester!

21 April 2012

Building Dedication

Yesterday was the dedication ceremony for the College of Public Health's new building. There were a lot of people and a very exciting atmosphere. I tweeted from the event. You can read my original tweets on my twitter page, but I am also posting the pictures here. I apologize for the poor quality, they were all taken on my cell phone.

The day started off with Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. He gave a great speech about the CDC as well as many of the CDC funded activities occurring at the University of Iowa.

After that there was a brief break with some people touring the building.

Ryan meeting with visitors.

CPH Students

Katie meeting with Dr. Frieden

Joanna, Tom, and Carmen--CPH Student Ambassadors

Next up was the main presentation. I was sitting in an overflow room where the audio/visual was streamed from the main auditorium.

Dean Sue Curry began the introductions.

Followed by some words from UI President Sally Mason

And the keynote speaker Senator Tom Harkin

The evening ended with public building tours. In all, it was a really successful and enjoyable day. It certainly is an exciting time to be a public health student at the University of Iowa!

12 April 2012

It has a name!

Even if you've only read a couple of my posts you probably picked up on my fascination with social media and technology and how they can be integrated into public health and medicine.

I came across the term doing research for a project for the college's building dedication next week (you should start getting excited about that too). I thought to myself "Public Health 2.0, wonder what that is?" It didn't mean anything to me at the time, but I stored it in my brain for the future.

And then I googled it...and my brain was blown! (Yes, that sentence is colloquial, but it is the best way to describe my reaction.) This is what I'm interested in and it has a name!

The 2.0 in the name refers to the term "Web 2.0." Web 2.0 is not a different internet as the name may appear to suggest. It's a different way of using the internet. The foundation of Web 2.0 is user-generated content and interaction between users. Thus, Public Health 2.0 is the application of Web 2.0 ideas to the field of public health. It means engaging people in public health conversations and action through the use of social media, blogs, and apps.

I wish I could read more about it and bring some brilliant knowledge to you now. But, alas, the end of the semester is nearing and I have homework to do, preparation for the building dedication, and practice for the piccolo concerto I'm performing in May.

22 March 2012

Good Reads

It's been a busier semester than I anticipated. It's scary to think how close I am getting to being done with my MPH degree!

Here are a few good reads I have stumbled upon recently and wanted to share with you all.

First, although it is written from the perspective of a physician, I think it is extremely important for any professional who works with obesity or any disease, really. We should always be thinking of the patient's perceptions and experiences.  "Defective" and the closely related "Shame" (by the same author).

From the same author (I'm a bit of a fan)...another great piece on how he talks with patients about confusing statements that come up in the popular media (like, "I can't drink milk, casein causes cancer!" or near and dear to public health "I haven't had a flu shot for 50 years and I'm not dead). Read "Buckle Up"

13 February 2012

Feb 13-19

CBH Events
CBH Alumni Series - Monday Feb 13, 4 p.m., 106A CPHB
Obesity Cluster Hire Candidate - Thursday Feb 16, 2:30 p.m., C217 CPHB
Journal Club - Friday Feb 17, 12-1 p.m., S0125 CPHB

CPH Events
MPH Seminar - Tuesday Feb 14, 12-1 p.m., S106 CPHB

University Events
HHP Faculty Candidate "Technology to Change Physical Activity Behavior" - Thursday Feb 16, 10 a.m., Ziffren Conference Room, 1502 JCP

06 February 2012

Feb 6-12

A little late on this one, sorry!

CBH Events
Obesity hire candidate presentation - Monday Feb 6, 11 a.m., S030 CPHB

CPH Events
Epi Seminar -Acute Respiratory Infections in Medical Students - Thursday Feb 9, 11:30 a.m., N120 CPHB

University Events
UI Sustainability Summit - Friday February 10th, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., IMU Ball Room. RSVP here

Other Events

01 February 2012

Mind the Science Gap

I came across this through the University of Michigan School of Public Health twitter feed. 

This is actually a class aimed at teaching MPH students how to translate complex scientific research into something the general public can read and understand. Each week they write a blog post. Definitely an interesting and extremely important idea.

What's the coolest part of this class? They are graded by the feedback the readers give. 

I've looked at some of the feedback and it's similar to what you might get from your professor on a paper. But it's better than that because it comes from a collection of minds and people with different experiences and points of view.

The website ( includes the posts as well as pages about the students, the class, and the syllabus.

And if any administrators or professors from the University of Iowa are reading this, might I suggest a new class offering? I might even delay graduation to take it ;)

29 January 2012

Jan 30-Feb 5

CPH Events
MPH Seminar - Tuesday Jan 31, 12-1 p.m., S106 CPHB
CPH Open Forum - Friday Feb 3, 3:45-4:30 p.m., N110 CPHB

08 January 2012

Health Maps

I love anything that gives me a visual picture. So you can bet that I looooove interactive health maps. Actually I enjoy all maps. But here are some sweet health related maps.

Google Flu Trends

Food Desert Locator (also featured on a blog post back in October)

United States of the Environment

Keeping physicians in state

antibiotic prescribing hotspots

And not health related, but probably my favorite of them all:  it takes places, events, and things and puts them over a map of where you live to give a better idea of how big they really are. Maybe you could find a health-related event on here...or you could go to and relate the number of people affected by diseases and disasters and plagues to the people in your facebook friends.