Incredible Opportunities to Discover Myself at Lithuanian University of Health Sciences

by Marija Aleksandraitytė
General Public Health . Lithuanian University of Health Sciences

There is no doubt that students are the professionals of the future. They study hard to be able to make professional decisions and perform tasks competently. But the question arises, is that enough just to study hard to maximize professional improvement? Most likely, the answer would be the opposite. It is gratifying that the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences is providing a lot of unique opportunities to increase a variety of competencies and in my opinion, this university is exceptional not only for its high-quality studies but also for its strong focus and support on complementary activities. This university has a lot of research activities, youth, and cultural organizations, practices, and volunteering activities. Each student can find their favorite activity based on their characteristics. With the knowledge gained in other activities, students can apply their skills more broadly and adapt to the changing needs of public health. Being curious, enterprising, and creative, students set an example for society to be more united and healthier.

Public Health Students Association. Reasons to join and its purpose

From the very first year during my public health bachelor studies at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, I was very impressed that it is possible to realize oneself in many areas and my dream was to join a non-governmental organization to have at least one additional activity after lectures. It was a challenge for me because I never belonged to any organization, so I thought it is worth a try something new. Before joining an organization, I set a goal to gain or improve skills related to health management. Moreover, I imagined that being in an organization is a great opportunity to get to know yourself and your values. And later I understood that it is true. I was very happy that during my first semester of studies in 2018 I had the opportunity to join the Public Health Students Association (in Lithuanian – Visuomenės sveikatos studentų draugija (VSSD)) and from 2019 to be a president of this organization for two cadencies. It is an experience that has undoubtedly influenced my future choices. The students of public health at Lithuanian Health University of Sciences have established the Public Health Students Association since 2006. It is a student voluntary non-governmental association only one in Lithuania and it is uniting Lithuanian public health students of bachelor and master studies. This organization provides an opportunity for each student to engage in social activities, implement their ideas, meet a lot of students from other universities in other cities, provide experience in communicating with the academic community, organizing projects, events and conducting research activities. The main values are tolerance, responsibility, cooperation, and awareness. Each week president is organizing virtual meetings to discuss ideas for upcoming events, to develop new projects, and discuss new opportunities for the organization and each member.

Youth organization – the path to growth

This organization gave me an amazing team that had the common goal of making society healthier through developing healthy lifestyle habits and encouraging awareness. Members of the Lithuanian Public Health Students Association are implementing projects together, attending meetings, and spending time in various pieces of training. I do not doubt that the people I met will remain my friends and professional advisors in health aspects in the future and I am very thankful for that. Also, I improved a lot in the management area: as a president, I had to organize the work of my team, deal with difficult situations quickly, work with various documents, and writing projects related to public health topics. These skills helped me understand the benefits of managerial knowledge in the healthcare sector and highlighted the importance of leadership. Not only personal but also the development of the team is very important. Every year, the association organizes pieces of training and practices to raise the competencies of members on various topics: psychology, marketing, project development, lifestyle medicine, health policy, and more. Moreover, because of the organization, I became more familiar with the public health academic community, with whom we collaborate in the areas of science, organizational, and competency development. Together with the Institute of Health Research, we contributed to an unaccounted tobacco products research around various cities in Lithuania, where students collected tobacco packets by following special routes and in that way identified how much unaccounted tobacco comes across the Lithuanian border. Also, with the Department of Preventive Medicine, we have created the first online booklet for children of 5-8 grades called “The most frequently asked questions about COVID-19” and conducted online interactive lessons for students. The organization is especially grateful to the academic community for their support and assistance. It is important to mention that according to European Commission Health Profile in Lithuania in 2019 most people die from cardiovascular diseases and life expectancy is one of the shortest in the European Union. To highlight the importance of public health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, which are particularly important to the Lithuanian population, every year in September we organize a competition to mention World Health Day, with special activities and tasks that promote knowledge of risk factors such as dietary risks, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, and low physical activity. Lithuanian Public Health Students Association also organizes a variety of initiatives, conferences, practices, and webinars to promote healthy eating, mental health, and the prevention of infectious diseases. In provided photos, you can see team members and moments from various events. I am glad that with the team I was able to implement many activities, gain practice and learn more about the needs of society related to the health system.

Personal discoveries and formed attitude

Moreover, during my studies, I became convinced that belonging to this organization is also a great opportunity to find out which area you would most like to work in. The Public Health Students Association actively organizes a variety of meetings with representatives of institutions who have graduated from public health studies and who share basic advice and knowledge about their current workplace. After one conversation with the representative, I understood that I want to work with young people in the field of public health in the future. I see an important need because young people are a particularly vulnerable group which is highly dependent on the environment in which he lives. During childhood and adolescence, basic habits are formed that remain for life. It is therefore important to educate young people at the same time reducing inequalities between socio-economic aspects to choose a healthier lifestyle and to create a more sustainable environment for this targeted group, especially in the mental health field. Therefore, at this stage, the three directions – health education, advocacy, and targeted and youth-oriented policies – are especially important and are the bases that determine the future state of public health.

To sum up this whole story, I can say that in this organization, every student can find an area for improvement according to their personality. Students only should take every opportunity and not be afraid of challenges. Because challenges in an organization provide an opportunity to discover yourself and achieve the main personal and team goals in small steps.