By Leonardo Palumbo, Anna Gallinat & Ann Marie Borg
Alongside 70 other young health professionals from Europe, Anna Gallinat, Leonardo Palumbo and EuroHealthNet’s newest team member Ann Marie Borg attended this year’s Young Forum Gastein (YFG) at the beginning of October. As a side event of the annual European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), the YFG in collaboration with the European Commission offers scholarships to promising health experts under the age of 35 to attend the EHFG and learn more about and discuss current European public health policy making and research.
But what exactly made the YFG such a valuable experience for us, apart from the content that Leonardo reported on here? There are various reasons starting with the aspect of networking. We had the great opportunity to meet – some might call it access to – many high-level public health professionals.
Be it while listening to them in panel discussions, interviewing them or talking to them during the breaks, “we definitely experienced that everyone is very approachable and happy to talk to us” says Anna. In this respect, the EHFG has a different atmosphere than any other conference in Brussels. This may be because you encounter most of the attendees for a couple of days in a row or as a result of the beautiful scenery of the Gastein valley – which provides a delicate balance between a high-level yet familial conference environment. “And then there was of course the ‘family’ of Young Gasteiners. This group of people made the YFG all the more enjoyable for me.” Anna recalls. It is quite telling for the atmosphere that this year’s Young Gasteiners seem to have chosen Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” as their anthem.
We, Young Gasteiners bring to the EHFG fresh and innovative ideas in the way we see the development of health policy-making in the future and a certain degree of youthful enthusiasm to make Europe healthier. In addition, the international, intercultural and multilingual setting allows us to create strong bonds right from the beginning. We understand our diverse professional backgrounds as a strength that can maximise our impact and help us achieve the best possible outcomes – for the EHFG as well as for a healthy people. Different insights provide different ideas and the Young Gasteiners are indeed full of these.
Leonardo, a second-year Young Gasteiner alumnus, says: “With our feedback from last year, the organisers have definitely improved the structure of the YFG 2014. We were divided into ten different working groups based on our interests. This gave us the possibility to go more in-depth on the selected topics.” Each working group had to perform different tasks, such as social media coverage or writing articles for the daily newsletter.
While Anna attended sessions that addressed public health policy making and produced a summary of one of the sessions to be included in the final report, Leonardo’s sessions related to public health leadership, which he blogged about for the EHFG website during the website. Ann Marie had the opportunity to interview different high-level speakers from the opening plenary, namely Professor Helmut Brand, former MEP John Bowis and MEP Alojz Peterle. “It is definitely an experience to be able to ‘enter the worlds’ of such influential people and gain first-hand insight on their views of current health issues and their visions for the future health policy agenda in Europe. Towards the end of the interviews, I also asked the interviewees to give a word of advice for Young Gasteiners and aspiring young health professionals and policy-makers of tomorrow”. While bonding over their alma mater Maastricht University, Professor Helmut Brand, President of the International Forum Gastein said: “It is about how to change real lives and the best way to do this is if you have some experience in policy-making.”
Apart from attending the general conference programme, as Young Gasteiners, we also had the possibility to attend one-to-one sessions with senior public health professionals. Leonardo met Professor Ilona Kickbusch and recalls: “She made herself available to the next generation of public health professionals and shared experiences from her career for us to understand what challenges await us in the future.” Additionally, three career talks were held, exclusively for the Young Gasteiners. Representatives from the WHO, the European Commission and health consultancies explained both their personal career paths and different ways to join their organisations.
This year’s EHFG edition came at a particularly challenging time for health and its policy agenda in Europe, challenging yet an interesting time of transition and new beginnings. Hence, a highlight session that brought our experience to an exciting end was definitely our meeting with the, then designate, Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. In a quite informal setting, we were able to ask him questions concerning his upcoming mandate. Curious, but also critical, questions from the Young Gasteiners were met with appreciation by Andriukaitis, who was very keen to hear what the Young Gasteiners had to say, promised to take our views into consideration in the future and encouraged us to stay active in the field.
Young Forum Gastein Network
All YFG alumni also form part of the Young Forum Gastein Network. With more than 250 members, this Network provides us with year-round opportunities to participate in workshops, summer schools and conferences. In addition, through both the YFG and the Network, we are able to develop important public health competencies such as the ability to build alliances and partnerships, experience advocacy at first hand and improve presentation and communication skills.
If you are interested to learn more about the programme and perhaps even to apply for next year, keep an eye on this page