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Shaping community through education and policy

Jill Tamashiro earned her MPH from UH Public Health in 2010 in Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. Since then she has worked to improve the health of Hawai‘i by offering health education on the harm of secondhand smoke exposure and the importance of smoke-free environments.

Jill currently is a public health educator with the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH), Tobacco Prevention and Education Program. In this role, she works collaboratively with government agencies and organizations to support tobacco-free policy education and implementation.

Like many public health professionals, Jill started out in direct service, specifically in occupational therapy. Later, an internship in a community health setting such as the Eldercare Program of Kokua Kalihi Valley (KKV), broadened her perspective on health.

“I learned how community health programs address the root causes of health and illness. This inspired me to work on “upstream” strategies that impact why some people have more health problems than others,” says Jill.

KKV provides services to people coming from diverse backgrounds, including Native Hawaiians and immigrants from the Philippines, and other pacific islands.Says Jill, “I am dedicated to serving the people of Hawai‘i. My heart is here and so it feels right to contribute to the place where I grew up.”

Jill thinks that the “key” to making a difference is reaching out and joining in partnerships. One of her best experiences with this strategy was with a statewide collaboration that developed legislation to make our beaches smoke free. 

Her DOH office contributed scientific information from years of tobacco research. The Surfrider Foundation  and Sustainable Coastlines highlighted the environmental impact of cigarette butt litter on our ecosystems. From there a diverse group of young, concerned surfers and community advocates took the data and developed a community education campaign, which ultimately led to legislation.

“Several government agencies backed this effort, and we saw several counties pass an ordinance. Our 2015 State Legislature made all our state parks and beaches tobacco-free.  My belief is that teamwork and linking communities with government agencies and decision makers are exciting and essential parts of the change process,” says Jill.

She adds “Public Health is about shaping community environments and public policy so that people have opportunities to make healthy choices.”

Jill has returned to UH Public Health for another degree. “I want to earn a PhD in Public Health to advance my skills so I can be of further help to communities,” says Jill. “The required PhD classes are generally held one day a week, so I can keep working at DOH while earning my degree.”

Photo caption: HB525- Tobacco-Free State Parks passes final reading in the 2015 legislative session. Photo with staff from the Department of Health, Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, B.E.A.C.H. (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai’i), and Reps. Belatti, Evans, and Rhoads.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni