In Case You Missed It: Making Healthy Decisions with the Health Department

“Making Healthy Decisions with the Health Department” is the forty-ninth episode of The College Handoff. This episode features Lori Barber, a BYU nursing alumna who works as the nursing division director for the Utah County Health Department. Additionally, nursing students and research assistants Rachel and Megan talk about their experience creating an immunization campaign for Fijian children.

The Utah County Health Department is home to several different clinics and programs that benefit the community. “In my division, we have about 220 employees (give or take a few on any given day). We have the immunization clinic, which I think that’s what we’re most well known for here at the health department. And then we also have a wellness clinic where we do immigration exams, and physical exams for kids, and missionaries for their exams,” Lori explains. “We have many programs related to epidemiology and tuberculosis. We have an STI clinic. We have Welcome Baby programs where our nurses go into new moms’ homes, educate them, and screen them. And recently, we’ve added a health equity team and COVID community health outreach workers. So we have a lot of programs here in my division.”

With a diverse selection of programs and tasks, nursing students often want to begin volunteering or get a job at the health department. Lori has some tips for nursing students interested in the health department. “If they wanted to come here as a student, it would be good to have them talk with their faculty member and say, ‘I’m interested in public health. Could you assign me to the health department for this rotation?’” Lori says. “We’ve hired several new [BYU] graduates actually in our COVID clinics and encourage them to apply for other jobs here because COVID is grant-funded. We don’t know when that when it’s going to end or if it’s going to end. And so, we’ve been able to place some of them into permanent positions here at the health department. So we’re always looking for COVID nurses right now. That’s our biggest need. And if they volunteered through the MRC and then got to know our staff, that’s an excellent way for them also to get a foot in the door because if they do a good job for us, then we will hire them into those roles.”

The second half of the episode highlights a project research assistants Rachel and Megan have been working on in collaboration with professors Gaye Ray and Karen Lundberg. “Our project is to create vaccination teaching aids for children in Fiji, which has been a unique and wonderful thing to be a part of,” Rachel begins. “Essentially, it came to be because there’s a big education gap for Fijians when it comes to vaccinations. Vaccines are mandatory for them to receive and receive them when they’re in primary school. So nurses come to primary schools, giving the kids their vaccinations. But because they’re mandatory, a lot of children grow up without really understanding what they are, and parents don’t have to think that much about if they’re going to allow their kids to get the vaccines or not. But now with COVID, and everything, it’s essential for them to understand what vaccines are and why they’re important. And so it’s been enjoyable working on this project to teach kids about what they are.”

One of Rachel and Megan’s favorite things about working on this project was their collaboration with Professor Ray and Professor Lundberg. “Originally, when I thought of research, I just thought of someone doing something on Excel and just crunching numbers. This project was a lot more creative than I expected it to be,” Megan admits. “And working with the professors was awesome. Gaye and Karen put their trust in us. And I loved it because they’d give us advice and then we would just go out and do and be the ones interviewing people. I think they had a vision, and I’m really happy that they trusted us with that vision and to carry that out.”

The materials present a learning opportunity for nursing students. “There’s going to be so much that nursing students get out of this. And I honestly feel like the nursing students will get more out of it than the audience will. I think the nursing students will learn more about cultural humility. It’s a great educational experience,” Megan says. “And they’re going to make some great connections. So especially when we go back, and years to come, they’ll be able to rely on those networks and, and also the nursing students that will go on the next year will be able to keep on building those friendships with our Fijian friends.”

This project has been influential for Rachel and Megan on a personal level. “This experience was an amazing opportunity for me. I feel like I learned so much about not making assumptions about culture, and I know that that’s something that Megan and I both learned. We made assumptions at the beginning about what things looked like in Fiji, but then we learned as we went along so much more about the population,” Rachel says. They also believe that this project will be influential for the world around them. “I think that my hope for the project is that we can help teach some people that don’t normally get to hear about these kinds of things when nursing students do go to Fiji. And then the goal lastly is to leave these materials in Fiji with teachers or nursing students there. So I hope that this can continue to be passed on and provide more education to children who don’t normally learn about vaccines. But I’m just thankful that I’ve gotten such a new perspective into a culture that I hadn’t learned about before, and I’ve gained so much appreciation for them.”

If you want to listen to Episode 49 of The College Handoff that features the full interviews and more insights into the various roles of the health department, becoming involved in community healthcare, and the details of the immunization campaign for Fijian children, go to or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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