Student Reflection: SOPHE 2023 Advocacy Summit

In October, I attended Society for Public Health Education’s 2023 Advocacy Summit to present on my experience as a Health Policy Ambassador. Together with other Ambassadors from the 2022-2023 cohort, I developed a poster and discussed the structure of the program, our projects, and some of the benefits and challenges of this unique, community-engaged program. I decided to attend not only showcase the HPA program in the poster presentation portion, but to learn more about advocacy in health policy, including approaches to stakeholder engagement, policy development, and community engagement.

This was the first national conference I have ever attended. With that, I was a bit nervous and unsure what to expect, especially since I wanted to make the most of my time there. However, I was definitely expecting the Summit to be very busy with presentations by public health practitioners working in health policy, along with interesting keynotes related to this year’s theme of voting. I was also very excited for special events related to being in Washington, D.C., such as being on the Hill.

I benefitted from the conference in many ways. First, I got some interesting ideas of how to tackle issues related to some of our projects with Health Policy Ambassadors, particularly about assessing stakeholder engagements. My poster presentation was very well received, and many attendees were interested in establishing similar programs at their institutions. Personally, I enjoyed traveling to Washington, D.C., and I learned a bit more about navigating professional spheres. Additionally, this was the first time I did legislative visits, and I visited the offices of Senators Tommy Tuberville and Katie Britt as well as Representative Terri Sewell. It was fascinating but challenging to work in the Capitol environment, and I think I can bring that to potentially working with policymakers at the state/local level.

One of my favorite presentations that I attended featured Lieutenant Janesia Robbs in the U.S. Public Health Service. She spoke to the audience about stakeholder engagement. She went very in depth about what stakeholder engagement is and is not, including how to work with key stakeholders who may have missions that go against yours. Though I’ve had some basic experience with this concept, this presentation was very enlightening for me. The presentation touched on general principles of stakeholder engagement, as well as many of the smaller details that she believes needs to be done before, during, and after stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders may or may not hold the same mission or vision as your group, so sharing your general goals may help focus your meeting to get the most out of your time and narrow down your scope. I found this very helpful for our work with Health Policy Ambassadors, as we sometimes have limited time to get extremely important information from or share an ask with a government official, community member, and so on.

If you are interested in advocacy and health policy, I would recommend SOPHE’s Advocacy Summit – especially if it is your first national conference. To prepare, I would plan to network, and I would also reflect on your own experiences with health policy and think about what you would like to gain from the conference, particularly in terms of policy advocacy. I would also think about what to do in exciting cities like Washington, D.C.! I was shocked by both the beauty of D.C. as well as the amount of action in the city, especially when I walked down one street and saw the White House, visited a Smithsonian Museum, saw the US Department of Justice, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Capitol. I also got to kayak on the Wharf and eat at some local restaurants. Overall, it was a great trip, both professionally and personally!


Kevin Joseph participated in the HPA program in the 2022-2023 academic year, and is currently participating again. Co-authors on his presentation include his fellow Erik Angus, Ritika Samant, Mikayla Rigsby, and the program’s director, Sean McMahon. Kevin utilized the LHC’s Health and Policy Conference Travel Scholarship to attend the SOPHE Advocacy Summit.