Season 1 Episode 8
Laurie Walkner Welcome to Share Public Health, the Midwestern Public Health Training Center’s podcast connecting you to public health topics, issues, and colleagues throughout our region and the country, highlighting that we all share in public health. Thank you for tuning into this series of interviews with public health leaders where we learn about different perspectives on current and emerging public health issues.
Suzanne Hawley Hi, welcome to our leadership series with the Midwestern Public Health Training Center. My name is Suzanne Hawley and we’re here to talk with public health leaders from a personal perspective to just learn more about what skills would be great for public health leaders and professionals today. So thank you for being here with us and I’m wondering if you could just share a little bit about yourself and what brought you into public health.
Jennifer Valentine Sure so I am my name is Jennifer Valentine and I work for the Knox County Health Department in Knoxville, Tennessee, and my current position is director of organizational planning and development, and so what that means is I oversee strategic planning which includes: community strategic planning as well as internal community strategic planning, quality improvement, performance management, any of the accreditation efforts that we have, and as well as workforce development. We are the first health department in the state of Tennessee to be PHAB accredited so I’m very excited about that. And I got into public health I’ve been a public health nurse for 19 years, so I’m celebrating my 19th anniversary, and when I was in nursing school doing the different rotations through all of the different areas I got to public health and I just fell in love with it. And I knew from the- very that moment that- that’s where I wanted to land. And so at the time you had to get at least two years of acute care experience, so I had to pay my dues and and go into acute care in the acute care setting for two years and then as soon as I got that to that two-year mark I said okay it’s time to go into public health and I was hired on as a home visiting nurse and then from there I went in to, I started our HIV clinic, which was the Centers of Excellence for HIV. And after that I was our emergency preparedness nurse and then was promoted into the assistant Director of nursing position, and then eventually Director of Nursing. And then after a few years of being in the Director of nursing position my organization asked me to take a bigger picture approach to public health- looking at more internal efforts that we were doing in our organization to address population health, and so I took that on and I’ve just never looked back.
So, that’s great. So, you clearly have exemplified that all that public health nursing can be within a Health Department from visiting nurse to preparedness and strategic planning and accreditation so that’s, that’s great. Yeah, so with all of your experience now on your 19th year I’m wondering what excites you about public health the most right now?
Valentine I think there is a big push to really look at health and all policies, and I know that’s- a- it’s a phrase that a lot of people have heard of and heard about what that means, but I know that in my health department in particular we are really focusing on looking at health and our policies internally so what, what does that mean to our staff? To our workforce? Some have heard of it, some haven’t, so really it’s kind of getting our house in order first making sure we educate our workforce into understanding what that means well and just defining health in general, you know, what is the definition of health? And making sure our staff understand that it’s much more than being cared for in a hospital or coming to the public health department to get an immunization, so it goes way beyond that. But then once we’ve got our house in order, then we want to branch out to our governing entity and the partners that we work with in the community and really describe and explain to them what health in our policy- what health policy in health means, what does that mean? Making them aware of what that means, and then hopefully getting them to start considering health in all the policies that they’re making or changing or revising, so we want to be a big driver for that, so that’s really one of the big public health initiatives that we’re really focusing on right now.
Hawley So, I like the idea of the fact that you’re talking about having that kind of modeling the way, you know, having some integrity to be able to be vulnerable, to look at yourself, to do that within your organization, but I’m also thinking it’s probably you’re able to have some safe experiments with, you know, saying okay if this doesn’t Work-
Hawley -where are we gonna get Pushback? How are we gonna, like, need to rethink things?
Valentine That’s exactly right and that’s how we look at a lot of our initiatives whether it’s health and health policies or if we’re looking to do some cultural- cultural competency training or implicit bias training. We really involve our staff first so they’re kind of like our pilot group: we have 276 employees so we’re pretty big, and they are, if anything, honest with us- if they don’t like something they tell us; if they don’t understand something if they think something is just, you know, strange and out of their comfort zone, they let us know, so yes it’s it’s really all about including our workforce and everything and making sure that they understand the direction our organization is going but also public health in general, and making sure that they’re on board with that. And so it really it really just starts there before we even branched out to the to the larger community.
Hawley So the field of public health is changing to really what we need to do to prepare for the future of the 21st century, of the issues that will be coming before us, that are with us now, that we may not even be fully prepared to deal with. I’m wondering what kinds of things do you feel like public health professionals need to be prepared for to better handle change? You know, I’m thinking even just this experiment within your- I mean, what kind of skills do you think is required in change management?
Valentine So I think change management is a skill in itself. Recognizing that change is going to occur, how to handle the change, and even that is a- is a skill that, that needs to be taught to public health workers because a lot of times- and I think one thing we’ve learned in the past 10 years in my organization in particular- is that we need to be more proactive versus reactive to anything that might be coming our way. Whether it’s the opioid epidemic, a hepatitis A outbreak, measles- whatever, and so learning how to manage change effectively is it’s very, very important and it’s it like I said again, it’s being more proactive versus reactive. And- and change is hard and- and that’s one thing we’ve learned from our workforce. Sometimes when we implement things internally it doesn’t go over very well and it’s just it’s a change, it’s a change in the culture of your organization; it’s a change in the way of thinking because a lot of our staff have been there for you know many years. It could be you know they’ve been an employee for 30 years in public health, and so understanding why change is important and not remaining stagnant, you know, recognizing what are the things that we need to be working on because they’re issues that we are recognizing way before we have to be reactive versus Proactive?
Hawley So, has- has system think- systems thinking improved your ability to do the work of leading this kind of change? I’m wondering about systems thinking in general and your opinion.
Valentine Right, so systems thinking is a- is a public health competency that we have been working with in our leadership, within the organization, and the leadership in our organization is very strong in that area.Our upper- what we- when we have done a culture- when we have done a public health core competency assessment in our organization, the things that we have recognized that our staff has the most difficulty with is systems thinking and financial management. Some of our staff really don’t have- they work in areas where they don’t use those skills every day and so our top tier leadership typically uses those skills every day and so the Systems thinking is very natural to them it’s just second nature. Where we notice- that middle management really needs some help in systems thinking and again it’s- it’s- it’s making sure they’re aware of the big things, the big picture that’s going on in public health across the country. What are the big initiatives? Whether it’s health in all policies whether it’s you know any of the other initiatives that are very important; recognizing that they have to look at those things, not only the programs and things they are doing on a community level, but they have to look way beyond that. So systems thinking and how systems thinking really gets us to move the needle, you know, so thinking about okay I’m working in the WIC clinic or I’m working in environmental health, stepping back and going okay this is what I do every day, but what about how does this affect the bigger picture? What am I doing every single day that’s affecting the bigger picture?
Hawley So when you’re talking about making that connection, and then- then going out and doing the work in the community, what are the partnerships that you think are important? And actually moving that dialogue forward to improve the conditions for that community in terms of their health?
Valentine So, the partnerships are so important and thinking about the non-traditional partners, but also thinking about partners we’ve had for many years. So, the school systems is- is key; we work with them all the time on so many different things… our governing entity, they’re a partner, and preparing them or educating them on things related to public health because they have so many things coming at them, but making sure that we try to keep the attention on health and helping our governing entities see what are some of the bigger issues. Nonprofits are very important, and you know, law enforcement- we work with law enforcement on a lot of things that we do at our health department. One of our biggest partners and who has given us so much in return is our academic partnerships. We are an academic health department and so we work with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and it’s, it’s a huge University, and so we work for the Department of Public Health at UT but we also work with the School of Engineering, we were hey we’ve worked with the School of Social Work, we’ve worked with the school of Human Resources, so we really tap into those resources to do things to improve the health of the community and also our organization. So, partnerships are key, absolutely key.
Hawley So, I love hearing you say that not only are you working with schools or departments of Public Health, but you’re working with Engineering,
Hawley social work- you know I think about mental health- all these other issues that we may not be thinking about initially, and when you bring these partners to the table or maybe you’re trying to help them with what they’re doing that connect to health, persuasive communication comes to mind. So, I’m thinking: what are some of those critical pieces within persuasive communication that you think really help kind of move forward, you know, the discussion some people may be reluctant, you know, to…
Valentine Right- part- so, I think the number one thing in communication is listening. When everybody comes to the table they have an agenda they’re there for their- they have reasons that they’re there, but I think it’s important when you’re communicating with your partners to really think about listening to what some of their challenges are and don’t discount them because they have unique challenges just like Public Health does. Taking those challenges into consideration, but then also helping them see the benefits of health and everything that they do, so being very persuasive about that, but then also not being forceful or discounting how they may be feeling about something or the difficult things that they may be facing in their areas. Because, you know, everybody has their own little land- the land of public health has its own challenges- the land of law enforcement it’s the same thing- so it’s really about collaboration and building that momentum together to really address the things that are really affecting your community and moving the needle together. So, just persuasive communication is just being cognisant of it’s not all about public health, everyone has a unique set of challenges, and just encouraging them and- and- and- being persuasive in a way that, okay I’m in public health this is what we can offer you, this is what we can help you do. And then, you know, hopefully they can reciprocate some things to help Public Health as well. So, sometimes it’s not always all about what do we get out of this partnership,
Valentine it’s also about, okay, how can we help you? And in turn maybe you can help us and I think that’s where it starts that can meet that type of communication is building the relationships that really matter and that will truly make a difference in the health of the community.
Hawley So, I I guess I’m hearing kind of this sense of having humility and listening because you don’t know what someone’s priorities are,
Hawley or you don’t know what their values are,
Hawley to even begin a conversation without that
Valentine and also recognizing that just because someone’s- their goals and their values are this one day- in two years time when you’re a partner with them, that may change, so you have to be cognizant of that you know they’re they have changes in their areas just like we do, and so just being aware of that and being sensitive to that and- and being able to you know manage that change and determine, okay how does this relationship- how is it different now that we’re two years out? And you know what can we do to continue the partnership? But you know continue to have momentum and the things that we want to change.
Hawley So, we’ve talked about a few things today which include systems thinking, persuasive communication, and change management. I’m wondering if there are other things that you can think about that would help public health professionals kind of move forward in their work? If there are other skills you think that are important that we haven’t talked about?
Valentine Right, so you know I think any- again getting involved at the national level- it doesn’t have to be a huge involvement or even just getting involved at the local level, whether it’s joining a health council, or it’s running for an office, or joining a board of a non-profit I think public health workers have a lot to offer outside of public health. And maybe you’re the staff nurse that’s working in the immunization clinic at the health department, you can, you can provide a wonderful feedback and on, on health in any- whether it’s a neighborhood organization- so just getting involved. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but just to have a voice at the table so that you can let others know what are some of the big issues in public health. I think if there was anything that any training that has helped me in the past two years- and this is this is kind of interesting- it’s project management training. I had the opportunity to attend a training that was provided by the University of Tennessee College of Engineering on project management and at first I was like I really need to spend time doing this and it was so helpful; it was helpful in that it helped me think it helped me think about financial management, making sure that I’m keeping out with the deliverables of a project, and, and those are the kind of skills that you can take when you’re working on a coalition, or you’re working with a community, or if you’re working inside the walls of the health department. So, project management is something that has recently kind of surprised me as a skill that you know is very, very beneficial, so.
Hawley And, you know I think that’s great advice because you see people who might be trained in a clinical role or a focused role and then they kind of move up the ladder no matter what their discipline is.
Hawley and now they’re supervisors in leadership positions and they weren’t necessarily trained for that piece of the work
Valentine Right, right.
Hawley but- but I’m really critical, cross-cutting
Hawley So, yeah and I and I was going to ask you you know what advice would you give for a new professional, but I I’m hearing the get involved, you know, get involved and be aware politically, which connects with your original discussion about health and health policies- really sounds like that’s where a lot of it is. No matter what work you do on a daily basis so yeah that’s wonderful. Well I really appreciate the time that you’ve spent with us today it’s just-
Valentine Thank you thank you for having me.
Hawley -hearing your thoughts. I want to take that project management course and-
Valentine Do it, it’s worth it. I promise!
Hawley -all right well thank you so much for listening to our leadership series and we hope you’ll tune in again for our future sessions, thank you.
Laurie Walkner Thank you for joining us today. Special thanks to our guests, Shirley Orr, executive director of the Association for Public Health Nurses, Suzanne Hawley, Roger Hileman, Melissa Richlen, Hannah Shultz, and Laurie Walkner.
Funding for this webinar is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Please see the podcast notes for an evaluation and transcript.