Public health professional partners with Georgia College; aspires to be a "gatekeeper of the community"

Abbigale Clifford (left) tables in Upson County for the DPH

Public health professional partners with Georgia College; aspires to be a "gatekeeper of the community"

A bbigale Thompson Clifford, ’19, ’20, began working for District 4 of the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) in March 2021, and she’s already collaborating with public health partners, like Georgia College, for a healthier community. 

Abbigale Clifford
Abbigale Clifford

As a chronic disease prevention manager for District 4, serving 12 counties across west central Georgia, Clifford, with the help of some Georgia College students, will apply what she’s learned to a real-life public health campaign.

Recently, Clifford discussed collaborating with her mentor, Dr. Damian Francis, assistant professor of public health and director of the Center for Health and Social Issues at Georgia College. They thought to conduct a windshield assessment of tobacco retailers in Jackson, Georgia, located in Butts County. The county has the most adult smokers in district four. 

Georgia College public health majors Brandon Thomas and Savannah Webb collect data points in the tobacco assessment by interacting with the store clerk in Butts County.
Georgia College public health majors Brandon Thomas and Savannah Webb collect data points in the tobacco assessment by interacting with the store clerk in Butts County.

“We came up with the idea to have GC students do field work that will give them some great experience,” Clifford said. “We're contracting them through an MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the university and District 4 Public Health. This assessment is something the students can put on their resume.”

The concept is a win for both District 4 and Georgia College public health students. District 4 will procure valuable data to help guide its Tobacco Use Prevention Program. Five undergraduate students and one graduate assistant are Tobacco 21 Law Awareness Ambassadors. They will gain valuable transformative learning experiences outside of the classroom. 

“One quarter of adults in Jackson smoke,” Clifford said. “And I wonder what that looks like. I'm excited about this assessment.”

Clifford feels that her graduate epidemiology class provides the foundation for health program planning she often uses today. 

“I'm inspired by ways that health professionals really cater to populations. I just think it takes a special person to connect with the community. And I really admire when somebody does that well, serving as a gatekeeper to that community. I would love to be that person one day.”
– Abbigale Clifford

“You can't just think of an idea for a community: There has to be a need,” Clifford said. “And one of the ways to figure out that need is through data. That class made me really comfortable with pulling data, analyzing it and sharing the numbers in a meaningful way.” 

Another one of her favorite classes was health communication and social marketing, taught by Dr. Ernie Kaninjing, assistant professor of public health and public health program coordinator. Clifford feels she uses this class the most, because communication has rapidly evolved over the past several years

“I feel communication is ever-changing and definitely a huge part of my job,” she said. “So, in class, I really loved learning about effective ways to connect with people.”

Once Clifford has the results of this assessment, she’ll make a report on the climate of tobacco usage in Butts County.

“We're going to talk with the leaders of the Butts County School system and see if they need to update their tobacco policies within their schools,” she said..

Abbigale Clifford (left) and her colleague promote District 4’s services and collect community themes and strengths surveys at a community farmer’s market at the Thomaston Housing Authority in Upson County.
Abbigale Clifford (left) and her colleague promote District 4’s services and collect community themes and strengths surveys at a community farmer’s market at the Thomaston Housing Authority in Upson County.

Clifford will also conduct a district-wide community strength survey, where individuals will note what they feel is the biggest health issue in their county. The assessment will also reveal which populations are disproportionately exposed to tobacco retailing.

“We are updating our community health assessments for District 4 now,” she said. “And we are doing exactly what I shared with the community survey in class by conducting key informant interviews and working with community partners.”

Soon, Clifford will begin a cohort for a Diabetes Prevention program, which she looks forward to.

“I'm inspired by ways that health professionals really cater to populations. I just think it takes a special person to connect with the community,” Clifford said. “And I really admire when somebody does that well, serving as a gatekeeper to that community. I would love to be that person one day.”