Public Health Education in Rural Alaska: Bridging the Gap and Meeting People Where They Are

by Div. of Population Health Sciences  |   

Hannah Warren, Program Coordinator, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Anchorage-based nonprofit Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) provides first-class health services to all indigenous people throughout Alaska. It’s a big job in a big state that requires innovative thinking from dedicated people, like Hannah Warren (BS, Health Sciences, ’17; MPH, Public Health Practice, ’20). Hannah’s two degrees from UAA’s Division of Population Health Sciences have been invaluable to her during her time at ANTHC.

“I was always very interested in health,” Hannah tells us. “I remember when I was a teen [in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region] and I kept seeing these fliers from a website called and they were actually really funny. I found that that was a fun way to promote health while also incorporating humor and narrative values into the work they did.”

Hannah is the HIV/STD Prevention Program Manager at ANTHC, so rather than treating illness, her job is helping people develop safe, healthy behaviors that empower them to avoid contracting illness. At the heart of her efforts is education.

“I grew up seeing all of those different fliers, all of those funny red condoms, and that's what drove me into public health. And that's actually what I do today: I oversee that website. I send that content across the state. I'm able to create those materials and partner with our folks across Alaska locally and then also outside of Anchorage to promote public health, to promote HIV and STD education as well.”

Hannah points to a number of challenges in disseminating educational materials across the state’s many different communities, from tiny villages not connected to the road system to the many different sub-populations within our largest cities, to a lack of reliable and affordable internet access.

She and her small team overcome these challenges by partnering with people within communities who know the other residents well and provide them with education and other assets so they can be local advocates. For example, the team partners with community health practitioners and supplies them with condoms, brochures and other educational resources.

It frequently can be difficult for Hannah’s team to collaborate with other programs simply because they’re all so busy managing their own programs and projects.

“It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort to manage different organizations and different schedules across the board,” Hannah says.

Hannah has innovated a project to set up a consistent, predictable way for multiple, far-flung organizations to collaborate with one another. She also oversees another program working to partner with tribal organizations, nonprofits or school districts to implement a curriculum of medically accurate, culturally relevant and appropriate sex health and wellness education in rural Alaska. It’s a lot of hard work across a complex landscape. Hannah credits her UAA education for giving her the tools to accomplish it all.

“The difference between health care and public health is that I want to prevent chronic disease. I want to prevent HIV transmission. I want to prevent folks from getting STIs or STDs. Public health is really the driver of providing education in the field. So, what we often do is partner with health care professionals to provide education that's up-to-date, medically accurate, culturally relevant, so they can be the educators in their communities.

“I feel like my time at UAA really helped give me the foundational skills that I needed in order to do my current work successfully,” she says. “I think that it was really great at pointing me in the right direction of, you know, information that I needed, and it gave me the skills of being able to be a program manager today.”

DPHS programs provide education, career opportunities and community partnerships at the intersection of medicine and public health across the social sciences. If you’re interested in building healthier communities, learn more about our programs.