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The University of Kentucky College of Public Health’s (CPH) undergraduate research program fosters student curiosity and development through mentored, self-directed work. This program offers students extensive opportunities to conduct original research on meaningful public health issues as they work with faculty mentors.

This curiosity certainly found its way to student Katie Boroughs, who is currently enrolled in the Bachelor’s of Public Health (BPH) program at CPH and is graduating in May 2023 from the University of Kentucky. 

Katie has been preparing for a moment to present her research to a larger public health audience and that moment recently presented itself when she was invited to the 75th Annual Kentucky Public Health Association (KPHA) Conference: Shines Bright Like a Diamond event at the Sloan Convention Center in Bowling Green, Ky.

This conference brings together public health professionals from across the Commonwealth and surrounding states with the common goal of giving public health practitioners the best continuing education opportunities available anywhere.

Katie, along with her research partner Bradley Firchow (current medical student at the University of Kentucky), presented their research project titled” County Health Departments’ Approach to Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plans in Kentucky” at the KPHA pre-conference.

“We were fortunate to present our research to current public health officials and various Kentucky health department directors and receive valuable feedback from them,” says Katie. “I hope to continue pursuing new directions of this research in the future and during my time at UK College of Medicine next year.” 

Research Project

Katie and Bradley’s research focused on Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) and Improvement Plans (CHIPs), which are publicly available population health reports compiled by local health departments (LHD). Questions remain about heterogeneity in quality of reporting, as National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has not provided robust guidance to standardizing the CHNA process.

Researchers verify whether accredited LHDs in Kentucky are fulfilling CHNA/CHIP requirements for accreditation and whether accreditation improves report quality. Researchers seek to determine whether study design, reporting, and quality of CHNA/CHIP data vary significantly among accredited and non-accredited LHDs.  

A content analysis of existing accredited and non-accredited LHD CHNA/CHIPs was performed using an evaluation framework developed by Pennel et al, 2014. LHDs were ranked across 17 criteria on a six-point scale to generate composite scores for report quality. 

Katie says higher quality reports were associated with Public Health Accreditation, but report quality varied even among accredited LHDs. CHNA/CHIP approaches among LHDs varied in study design, reporting and quality.  

In the absence of robust guidance, LHDs vary significantly in their ability to deliver consistently informative CHNA/CHIPs. The research identifies an opportunity to strengthen CHNA/CHIP reporting standards and available resources for KY LHDs.

“The really impressive part of Katie’s work is how much of it was self-directed, says Dr. Richard Ingram, Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at CPH. “Her coursework may have provided a scaffold for her research, and faculty may have helped the conceptual framework, but she made it happen.”

Continuing a legacy 

Katie is also continuing the research and legacy of Dr. F. Douglas Scutchfield, founder of the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health, who passed away in May 2022.

“I am so grateful for the College of Public Health in supporting students’ research efforts and continuing Dr. Scutchfield’s legacy of merging public health and medicine in new ways is truly an honor,” she says. 

For students interested in doing undergraduate research or presenting their research, Katie says,

“To start small in order to build your confidence. Submit your abstracts to everything and shoot for the stars. Remember that your research is doing great things and people want to know about it.” 

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