Victoria Balogun completed a seven-week NIHR SPHR internship based at Imperial College London in summer 2023. She was supervised by Dr Rhiannon Thompson, an SPHR postdoctoral launching fellow at Imperial College London. Here, Victoria tells us about her internship.
My decision to embark on an internship in public health research with NIHR SPHR is rooted in a range of experiences that have profoundly influenced my passion for the field.
Understanding the need – bridging information gaps in healthcare
As a medical student, I often encountered patients suffering from health complications due to not identifying specific symptoms as a cause for concern. Simultaneously, I interacted with individuals who had limited awareness of essential practices to enhance their wellbeing, for example, what a balanced diet is and, even more so, why it is important. It is disheartening to realise that essential information, potentially preventing harmful health outcomes, often only reaches individuals when they are already at the point of care and the situation has escalated. As healthcare practitioners, we hold potentially life-saving knowledge. Yet, the absence of proactive, accessible, and culturally sensitive health information within certain community groups leaves opportunities for preventive healthcare unexplored, making individuals more vulnerable to health challenges such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.
Understanding this fuelled my commitment to bridge such informational gaps and enter the realm of public health.
Hands-on experience – community engagement and health equity
Roles such as being a Community Peer Researcher for Peabody and a Girls and Mental Health Project facilitator provided me with hands-on insights into the intricate dynamics of community health and wellbeing. It exposed me to the concept of Public Involvement in health promotion initiatives. Both roles involved engaging the public in research and building solutions together. It was collaborative in its approach, as it was carried out with or by members of the public rather than for or about them (1). Moreover, my commitment to championing health equity was furthered through my role as a Governor for Southwark Adult Learning Services and my engagement as a Community Health Ambassador with Healthwatch Southwark. Over the years, my active participation in global health initiatives in Malawi, Ghana, and Nigeria drove my unwavering commitment to making a global impact. It increased my eagerness to learn from existing Public Health structures and identify their strengths and challenges.
Initiating change – “nurtured” health promotion project
Recently, I launched a health promotion community project called “Nurtured”, intending to diminish health inequality disparities prevalent within black communities in Southwark. At Nurtured, we are dedicated to building a community of individuals where improved health literacy and self-efficacy is at the centre for all. It is crucial to us that we are not imposing a solution but instead collaborating with the community to build a solution. As a result, we developed the workshop series, ‘My Health and My Career’ – encouraging advancement in professional endeavours whilst prioritising physical and mental wellbeing. Career and health are not mutually exclusive but mutually inclusive – each impacts and is impacted by the other. We have conducted surveys that highlighted statistics such as 68% reporting their job having a direct negative effect on their health and overall wellbeing, with stress, anxiety, insufficient sleep, difficulty managing workload, poor nutrition, and lack of physical exercise all cited as leading reasons for the above. Since COVID-19, 72% of people reported not participating in community programmes or receiving information that supports their health on a day to day basis. This shows why projects like Nurtured and such workshops are so important. Our mission will be realised through various channels, including online infographics, community workshops, and peer-to-peer support systems. This endeavour reflects my unwavering dedication to tackling the social determinants of health, underlining the interdependence between individual well-being and the community’s overall prosperity.
Internship focus – investigating youth wellbeing, health behaviours, and digital platforms
Drawing from these significant experiences, I was enthusiastic about pursuing research to connect public health awareness with individual health outcomes. This will involve implementing strategies that cultivate healthier environments and empower young individuals to make well-informed decisions regarding their wellbeing.
This interest has led me to the NIHR SPHR research internship with Imperial College University. The project I am working on during my internship is focused on investigating the intricate interplay between the physical environment and the well-being of young individuals. Recognising the significance of early intervention and holistic approaches to health, I feel compelled to delve deeper into the factors that shape the well-being of today’s youth.
My internship project investigates the relationship between drinking caffeine and eating breakfast and the outcomes of emotional and behavioural difficulties and health-related quality of life. I will perform statistical analysis using R software to extract conclusions on these relationships. By investigating this, I aim to identify the optimal choices and discern the different effects of the decision to consume or abstain and the various combinations of behaviours. Building on my preliminary research, it has become evident that individuals are more inclined to initiate transformative shifts in their behaviours once they are aware of the adverse repercussions of their choices. I intend to leverage the outcomes of this study to inform social marketing strategies targeting health promotion initiatives within the adolescent demographic. Also, I plan to organise a focus group with some participants delving into the ‘why’ behind the results and how health promotional initiatives could influence this.
I am privileged to base my summer internship research on the expansive Study of Cognition, Adolescents, and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) (2). Schools across England are recruited for this study, with students asked to complete an online survey, physical measurements, and non-invasive biological samples. This study is the largest of its kind worldwide, with over 6000 students examining the impacts of mobile phones and social media on young individuals’ physical and mental health and brain function. Benefits to the students include vouchers and opportunities to engage in their own research with Imperial University, building their professional portfolio. As digital platforms continue to merge with communication, social interaction, and information consumption, it becomes increasingly crucial to understand how they influence the developing minds of adolescents. With a wealth of collected data yet to be thoroughly analysed, I look forward to researching how breakfast and caffeine affect young people.
Moreover, this internship gives me an increased understanding of public involvement and engagement in research, why it is important and how I can apply it to Nurtured, my health promotion initiative. Public involvement is collaborative research carried out with or by members of the public rather than for or about them, whilst public engagement are activities that share research information with the public (e.g., through events or social media). Both aspects are involved in the SCAMP project as student participants are invited to support in collecting the data and to carry out their own research project!
Research internship objectives and benefits
Through this internship, I am fortunate to have Dr Rhiannon Thompson, a Postdoctoral Research Associate, as my supervisor, thus bringing invaluable benefits. Her extensive academic background and expertise in the field ensures that I receive structured guidance, enhancing the rigour of my research design, stimulating critical thinking, fostering innovation, and enhancing the quality of my contributions to the field.
Through this research internship, I aim to develop an array of skills, including:
- Statistical and Research Analysis – This involves mastering statistical software, comprehending various tests, and interpreting data critically. Developing these skills allows me to extract meaningful insights from research findings and formulate well-informed questions that address critical public health issues.
- Verbal Research Communication – Effective communication of research findings is vital in influencing policies and practices. I intend to improve my verbal communication skills by presenting complex ideas clearly and engagingly. By practising this, I’ll be able to share my findings in a way that makes sense to everyone, whether they’re researchers, policymakers, or regular people.
- Written Research Communication – Clear and effective writing is crucial for conveying research findings. During this journey, I aim to improve my writing skills to create reports, articles, and presentations that are easy to understand but still capture the whole picture.
- Network with Public Health Researchers – Learning from them can guide me in my projects and open doors for collaboration. These connections will broaden my horizons, helping me find new solutions for public health challenges.
- Increased Understanding of Public Involvement and Engagement: understanding why it is essential and always putting it at the forefront of my mind when conducting research or executing community initiatives.
Future academic pursuits – MSc in public health
This September, I am pausing my medical degree to pursue an intercalation in MSc Public Health at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I am eager to study how health promotion, epidemiology, systems, and outcomes interconnect in middle and low-income countries and apply findings to real-world issues. As someone who desires to know more so they can do more, Postgraduate study is my next step, pushing me to my potential and enhancing my knowledge in Public Health. This internship’s exposure to research skills and statistical analysis provides me with a confident foundation I can build upon with my forthcoming MSc programme, allowing me to seamlessly integrate these skills into my academic pursuits.
Long-term goals: impact and commitment
Beyond this internship, I am committed to furthering my involvement in upcoming research endeavours, expanding upon community-based public health initiatives, impacting health technology, and influencing discussions on health policy. This symbiotic relationship between academic growth and real-world application embodies my commitment to making a lasting impact in the field of public health.
- What is public involvement? [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Aug 30]. Available from: https://sphr.nihr.ac.uk/public-involvement/what-is-public-involvement/
- Study of cognition, adolescents and mobile phones [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 30]. Available from: https://scampstudy.org/