I just returned from the 2012 Public Health Law Conference held last week in Atlanta. When the Network staff debriefed on Friday afternoon, it became clear that conferences offer different things to different people at different stages in their career. The 2012 public health law conference met these diverse needs in myriad ways.
The opening plenary with former CDC director Bill Foege was a highlight for many. Dr. Foege drew a distinction between happiness and pleasure (things that happen to you) and satisfaction (things you make happen) that seemed to resonate. He told the story of William Wilberforce’s tireless efforts that ultimately resulted in legal changes to make slavery unacceptable. After noting that the single biggest social determinant of health is poverty, Dr. Foege issued a clarion call to make poverty unacceptable. “If you want to do important things,” he said, “work on important issues.”
Dr. Foege’s session exemplified the inspirational purpose of conferences. We gather with people with shared interests in order to remember and renew, to rejuvenate and recharge our passion for our work.
The next plenary session treated participants to a whirlwind public health law year in review. By hearing updates on issues as diverse as the Affordable Care Act, hydrofracturing, and restrictions on lobbying and advocacy, we were reminded of the broad and interconnected nature of public health law and policy.
Break-out sessions provided a deep dive into specific public health law issues that public health practitioners and attorneys grapple with every day. For example, the need for comprehensive, community-based strategies to promote healthy eating and active living and to reduce tobacco use was a major theme. After a session on accreditation which featured presenters from Colorado, North Carolina and the Public Health Accreditation Board, I spoke with a public health nurse from Minnesota headed to a previously-scheduled call on the topic. A conference track on data collection, use and storage, was a surprise hit. Many conference-goers appreciated opportunities to engage with other views, particularly in a session that discussed paternalism and personal responsibility, and a session that examined the application of the First Amendment in cases involving regulation of commercial speech.
Another plenary session featured Alan Schwarz, a journalist with the New York Times who helped raise the profile of concussions in sports. Schwarz was careful to note that he is not an epidemiologist, but his presentation was a powerful example of the role the media can play in advancing public health.
If a person came to the 2012 public health law conference for an update on the state of public health law and policy today, I think he or she would have been more than satisfied. “But wait, there’s more!” -- as they say on the best game shows. Many conference participants remarked on the opportunities for informal networking. Whether it was during receptions, in front of signs for each of the Network’s regions, over meals or between sessions, I could feel an openness and eagerness to connect with other members of the public health law community that extended all the way from newcomers and students to seasoned veterans.
One way that we will be bringing the conference home is by sharing video footage of an interactive plenary session devoted to critical opportunities in public health law. Stay tuned!
Whether or not you were able to attend the conference, you are welcome and invited to take advantage of all the Network has to offer, both in terms of targeted legal technical assistance, and in making the connections with others that can be so rewarding, helpful, and fun!
This blog was prepared by Jill Krueger, J.D., Staff Attorney at the Network for Public Health Law -- Northern Region at the William Mitchell College of Law.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.