Share Public Health Podcast Transcript: Find a Mentor. An Interview with Doris Brown.

Season 1 Episode 13

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.

Share Public Health will be taking a break next week. Please tune back in the first week of December.

Today Suzanne Hawley from Wichita State University talks with Doris Brown, Executive Director for the Center for Community Preparedness at the Louisiana Department of Health, about the skills needed for public health practitioners today, the importance of relationships, seeking mentorship, and how the Louisiana Center for Community Preparedness achieved a third place ranking.

Suzanne Hawley

Hi, welcome to our leadership series. My name is Suzanne Holley and I’m from the Midwestern Public Health Training Center. Today we get to talk about key strategic skills in public health, but we get to talk to a real public health leader from a personal perspective, so thank you for joining me today and talking with me today. I’m wondering if you could just introduce yourself share a little bit about you and how you got into public health.

Doris Brown Thank you, Suzanne. I am Doris Brown, a public health nurse for 38 years and I currently serve as the Executive Director for the Office of Public Health Bureau of Community Preparedness. My journey started long ago at the mere age of eight. I was running around North Louisiana with my godmother, who was an old nurse; her husband was a family physician, and she did true public health nursing. She was making home visits in the rural community, so at eight I was exposed to home visiting, care coordination, and whatnot and when I started college and nursing- my nursing program- and made it to Community Health, at that time what it was called, I said this is what I want to be this is what I want to do is public health nursing, yeah.

Hawley So it kind of just brought you home?

Brown Yeah.

Hawley In some ways it sounds like-

Brown Yes.

Hawley Wonderful, you know. I’m wondering, with all of those experiences you’ve had, what excites you now most about public health?

Brown It’s a very fluid environment. It’s constantly changing. What excites me is that this is the time for us, as public health nurses, to be front and center, to be the leaders that’s needed to help direct and drive the public health system up today and tomorrow. We’re the best ones equipped to do this, so we have the big picture- we understand the individual, the family, the community, so… Overall, we understand public health and public health nursing.

Hawley So, you know, you talk about how fluid and changing public health is, and I certainly would want to echo that. I’m wondering in that idea, what you think are skills that might be critical to manage that change as a public health professional, or lead that change?

Brown Well, the first one, of course, is leadership. So, as a public health nurse, we have to have the leadership competencies necessary to help guide and direct, and underneath leadership there are so many different skill sets that- that’s needed; how do I communicate effectively? How do I deal with risk communications? If example, what’s going on in the media right now? A measles outbreak. We thought we had eradicated measles in 2000, now we have cases popping up all over the country. So, being able to communicate the disease of the day, I usually call it the “disease du jour.” What that might be and how we communicate that to the public- how do we make sure that they are not scared, alarmed, and- and really afraid that this is going to take out their whole community? So, risk communication is having the financial fortitude to help plan budgets, but do what’s necessary in their health departments, to write those budgets, help guide where the resources should go. As we talk about other skill sets that’s needed from under leadership and you- you there being able to write the grants- how do we bring in the funds to store it, and then once you bring them- write funding grants, how do you look at and manage the funds to make sure that we are spending those funds where they should be? And following those deliverables of the grants so that in itself is very, very important to the future and to the current health departments that we see.

Hawley So, you know, I’m hearing risk communication, you know, and in disasters or emergencies and even written communication to write grants, finance critical issues- which makes me think about the critical skill of strategic- the strategic skill of persuasive communication. So, I’m wondering what other thoughts might you have in terms of persuasive communication and its relevance to move public health forward?

Brown Excellent statement. I think that’s what I’ve had to do in my career in leadership and in public health. How do I make it a win-win situation for all of us- our partners- how do I communicate to them that it’s just as important for you to join forces with us and together we can do more and show the benefit of them partnering with us as a health department, as a local health entity? And when you identify those partners and tell them why it’s not a heavy-lift, they really are interested when you can show them I work for the State Health Department and I can keep you up-to-date on all the changes for your academic program as it relates to funding for APRNs. Bang: win-win situation. Another example we need the AARP to help us pass legislation regarding volunteer groups and organizations. How is this a win-win situation for the volunteer groups? Well, it identified them and they won’t have the liability if they come in to support us? Who are we taking care of in the shelters? Our seniors, so it’s a win-win situation for them. So, really showing that outcomes from the relationship, the positive outcomes, but also sharing that we are- we have the common mission and what that mission is, but how it will benefit them as well as us, so it making it the win-win.

Hawley So, you really have to know what their mission is to- to really provide that persuasive communication, and I’m thinking- your example, I love your example with AARP because here’s this national entity that is- is also local that you’ve connected with, so I’m wondering what your thoughts are about how systems thinking skill set has helped you in your role as a leader?

Brown And- and that is- you have to have the end in mind. I always thought at the end in mind and then I back up and how am I going to get to the end, how am I going to accomplish my goals? And they have to think big picture; you have to have the big perspective in mind, and what and who could help me meet and accomplish those goals? Not looking at fragments, not looking at pieces, but really overall having the bigger picture and the bigger picture starting with policy. What are the policy implications? What are the implications, not just from legislative perspective, but from an agency perspective? One of the implications in the community- one of those informal leaders- are saying, so really taking all aspects of the community, whether it’s the judiciary system, the legislative branch, the faith community… really looking at every aspect and saying now, this is how we will accomplish this. So, understanding that, and yes back to your earlier part, you kind of have to do your research and your homework, and make sure you have all of those pieces in place, and when you do go to the table you have that information. But also having the relationships and how do you build relationships? How do you establish those relationships? And how do you not wait till you need someone and go knock on the door, but you’re a part of the regular dialogue, you’re part of a regular conversation on a routine basis. You may not attend the same church, you may not work out at the same health club, but you have common interests and you feel the same way about certain issues and problems in a community.

Hawley Well, it sounds like you really have an appreciation in terms of that systems thinking perspective of the complexities, the multiple complexities of building all these different partnerships, and I almost see this focus as you’re speaking about these things that, you know, over time that you’ve been able to see these complex relationships in a more easier big-picture way, which sounds like, you know, it can be a lot to get your head around these ideas, but that you’ve really kind of lived that, built those relationships. Not- not fake, not at the last minute, but really we’ve always been here, you’ve always known what we’re about, and- and then when there is time for an ask, it’s- it’s not a surprise, and it might even be expected. So, I think that’s what I’m taking away from what you’re saying and I’m wondering, you know, you said those relationships are key. So, how do you- how do you build those relationships?

Brown Well, you start off by- you call them up and introduce yourselves. You call them, especially for someone and it’s a new partner, a new individual in town you, introduce yourself- you make yourself available. And the chamber business breakfast every year- so you’re meeting these non-traditional partners. That’s not part of public health, so that’s an investment you get up go to, 7:30 breakfast, and you never know which table you’re going to be in. It may be a banker, it may be the YWCA director, so you get there, you meet you talk you call them up, you pass out your business cards. And it also involves you give you support them, and in turn they will support you. So many a Saturday I’m speaking, going to their programs, attending their health fairs, doing what’s necessary to form those relationships, and I think that’s- that’s critical in the community, but also letting them know and understand that we all are vested in our community and then proving it.

Hawley Well, the way you described it, I would really like you to be one of my partners because you sound very just really authentic and this year you’re really there and you have that credibility, which is- which is wonderful, and I like how you’ve shared these ideas from, you know, kind of the big picture to, you know, what you show up on a Saturday morning and you- you could do with 7:30 breakfast and really, that full spectrum. I’m wondering, are there any other things that you think would be helpful in terms of what skills ideas would be useful for public health professionals today that- that we haven’t talked about, or advice you might give to someone just starting out in public health?

Brown Yes: find a mentor. When I started out, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you find you a mentor to bounce off, to have conversations, dialogues; someone that may be an expert in their given field, someone that may be in an area that you’ve identified: I need to grow in. And you have to seek them out, also. And I’ve done- I had a mentor that was the assistant secretary of HHS. I emailed them and stated who I was and why I needed to have a mentor that was strong in policy, and he embraced me and said yes, and so you have to assert yourself at times to communicate these areas and things that you- you want. So, as someone coming into public health don’t be afraid to reach out, identify those trailblazers. Even when I was in graduate school many, many years ago, I reached out to the theorists I was using to have a conversation, and my professor was most impressed. She said, “you literally,” I said she was still living so why not have a phone-

Hawley You just go straight to the top!

Brown You go straight- that’s what they teach you- go to the primary source, right?

Hawley Well, I mean you took it to a different level, which is all about where you are today.

Brown That’s it and so you didn’t-

Hawley People say yes.

Brown And they say yes. And so what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for me? Make it a win-win. And so it was a win-win for me and for him. He had an enthusiastic mentee that was full of energy and that wanted to learn and thought the moon rose and sat with him of course. And so he was very open, and you know ended up offering me a job in DC, but of course my passion stay at home with- in Louisiana.

Hawley So, I mean, even now at this you’ve become a mentor for others, and I’m wondering, you know, for that more timid, you know, go right- not maybe go right to the source kind of person, to what might you tell them as a mentor you know who’ve done great things? If someone’s wanting to come to you and try?

Brown That is great because I see that as part of my mission in life also is to help support. What I’ve learned in my experiences. One of the things that I do on a regular basis is mentor students, graduate students, I- whether they’re undergraduate graduate students I mentor them. I also do leadership bootcamp in my department, so once a month we conduct and we change topics. So, right now we are on quality improvement, you know, so big ticket for my department. It’s looking at- I’m agreeing, you know, being a green belt, you know, so going through that process- white belt, yellow belt, green belt-

Hawley Other critical…

Brown Yeah, critical skills, huh. You know, being a public health scientist, what does it mean? How do you take the data to let it drive your programs? How do you learn these things? So, yes. When they come to me, I tell them several things, you know, you may be shy but you write it down. So, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? Where did you see yourself in the next five years? And how you’re going to get there. And one of those gaps you feel, and we all do, the 360s, have you done that, and so have you had your supervisors and co-workers say what is and have you participated in any type of leadership development program? Whether its leadership- example, in Baton Rouge. The chamber does leadership [inaudible], so how did you start with that? We had the South Central Public Health Leadership Institute, so how do you jump in and get in those programs and ask your supervisor. You have not because you ask not, and when you ask you’ll be surprised and show the benefit to the agency. It will help increase productivity, it keeps us on the forefront, and when you, especially with our Millennials, and everyone asks you keep- I said yes I keep the Millennials close by to help mentor, but also to help drive our programming and how do we keep it at the forefront? How do we rank number three in the country instead of the number of 50th in the country? And that’s why our emergency preparedness program has been ranked number three in the country for several years. So, understanding- yeah, and keeping a diverse group of mentees and helping to grow and develop them.

Hawley Well, those are wonderful insights, and it’s been great to be with you and learn from you. I’m gonna go straight to the source when we’re done talking or figure out who that- that is for me. So, I feel inspired, so it’s very nice to meet with you today.

Brown And this has been a wonderful opportunity, thank you.

Hawley Right, thank you so much for joining us today with our leadership series, we hope you will join us again for a future session.

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.

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