Developing Lung Health Advocates
Knowledge is power—and physician-advocate Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, MHS, is equipping students in his community with the knowledge they need to be powerful advocates for lung health.
Dr. Galiatsatos is the Director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine and Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s also the Co-Director of Medicine for the Greater Good, an organization established at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center to promote health and wellness in Baltimore through community partnerships and training for health care professionals.
In 2019, Dr. Galiatsatos received a CHEST Foundation grant to fund a lung health education program in Baltimore area schools. The goal of the initiative, called the Lung Health Ambassador Program (LHAP), is to teach students how to use science to promote lung health and prevent diseases that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.
“A big impact was teaching students that science has true relevance toward what they do in their everyday life and how they can use science to advocate for their loved ones’ health,” Dr. Galiatsatos said.
One of the pillars of the LHAP is teaching health advocacy. Students wrote letters to the governor of Maryland advocating for the passage of the state’s Tobacco 21 law, which proposed that Maryland’s tobacco purchasing age be raised from 18 to 21. The bill was passed and went into effect in late 2019.
“Receiving CHEST Foundation funding for the Lung Health Ambassador Program played a significant role in [taking] an idea that we had in the hospital and executing it in local city schools.”
Nearly 500 students at four school centers participated in the LHAP during the 2019 to 2020 school year. Dr. Galiatsatos hoped that when the students saw physicians in their classrooms, it redefined for them what it means to be a scientist.
“That proximity of people who look like them is important. For some children who are immigrants, seeing me—a son of an immigrant—it probably meant the world for them to realize, ‘I can do that, too,’” he said.
A teacher at one of the LHAP schools saw herself in Dr. Galiatsatos, too. Olivia Veira was a middle school science teacher in south Baltimore when she was inspired to attend medical school after Dr. Galiatsatos visited her classroom. She now studies at the Emory University School of Medicine.
During the pandemic, Dr. Galiatsatos transformed the LHAP to address COVID-19. The virtual curriculum taught students how they can play a role in ending the pandemic using face masks, hand hygiene, and physical distancing. It also covered vaccines and strategies for combatting misinformation.
“We taught this in a way that the students can share the science with their families, friends, churches, synagogues, and mosques,” he said. “We [told them], ‘You’ll be playing a role in saving lives more than any physician or nurse ever could by sharing this information.’”
The momentum of the COVID-19 curriculum has been so strong that it’s reached 20,000 students in 28 states and three countries—plus it’s been taught in four languages.
It also caught the attention of Johns Hopkins University President, Ronald J. Daniels, who provided funding for Dr. Galiatsatos and his colleagues to build the Health Education and Training (HEAT) Corps at the university. HEAT Corps teaches children in Baltimore and around the world about the science behind COVID-19 and explains ways they can protect themselves from the virus.
In 2021, the CHEST Foundation awarded Dr. Galiatsatos a second grant to expand the LHAP’s focus to cystic fibrosis. Looking ahead, he wants to develop curriculum on both climate change and vaping, as he invests in the next generation of lung health advocates.
“We’re excited for the future of the Lung Health Ambassador Program, all because of the CHEST Foundation,” he said.
Support initiatives like the Lung Health Ambassador Program by donating to the CHEST Foundation.