Submitted by Jennifer Rewolinski
Dr. Deborah Williamson is an Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Charleston. Dr. Williamson, Community Health Maps (CHM) and MUSC have partnered in providing training that integrates GIS and CHM tools for a high school Teen Health Leadership Program. Dr. Williamson has worked with both community members and students.
Dr. Williamson believes that, “GIS has the potential to substantially increase community engagement and is truly a concept of the neighborhood taking control of their data.” She notes that while researchers might study a community, that a community’s input is essential to understanding the cultural and environmental context surrounding health issues: “GIS mapping puts the community members on more of a level playing field with their research partners.” GIS can empower and educate community members to identify their key issues, to become a part of an analysis, and to provide solutions. When communities are given the opportunity to map their own health, discovery, and awareness, positive changes can result. When a community feels it has more of a say through engagement with GIS, or communication with a map, intervention is more likely to be effective.
For the past three semesters, Dr. Williamson has used GIS in her own classroom as a capstone project for population health students. They, “find it fun and can take it with them into other settings, it fits into the world of new technology, and it takes people to the next step of looking at health issues.” Mapping offers a different way to help students visualize Social Determinants of Health and to make the connection between what population health is, and the factors that promote or deter it.
Finally, Dr. Williamson sees GIS as bi-directional: it supports visualizing gaps and assets while also providing the ability to disseminate and build on information via intervention programs to improve health outcomes and strengthen communities. GIS is also broadly applicable to almost any discipline and easily used by those with little expertise. “Presenting raw data to a community or students doesn’t mean a lot,” Dr. Williamson comments, “but when that same data is aggregated visually it instantly communicates a message to any audience.” GIS is clearly suitable as an effective educational tool in the classroom and in communities.
CHM thanks Dr. Williamson for her continued collaboration and time spent advancing the CHM program through use of the CHM tools at MUSC. CHM values our partnership with MUSC and hope that the future is as mutually beneficial as the past few years.
Field data collection for the CHM workflow bridges the divide between learning in a classroom and experiencing conditions in a community. For the capstone project, students use CHM labs and parts of the CHM workflow, including phone data collection with iForm or Fulcrum, integration of the data into QGIS, and presenting the data with Carto or Google Maps. Dr. Williamson’s students often upload their data from iForm to Google Maps because of its familiarity and easy access.
One student project involved identifying migrant camps as a community in need, and assessing the community through surveys and key informant interviews. When the data showed that migrant workers often lack knowledge of health information and access to healthcare services, students mapped locations of migrant camps near Charleston, SC in relation to urgent care facilities and shared the data with the migrant outreach workers from a local community health center. Later, an intervention was developed to provide hands on CPR and first aid instruction to 60 workers. This project displays successful application of CHM tools in an educational and community context resulting in an intervention that may offer real change.