Collaboration in Public Health

The field of public health challenges its professionals to confront complex health issues, such as improving access to health care; controlling infectious disease; and reducing environmental hazards, violence, substance abuse, and injury. From health protection to health promotion and disease prevention to health treatment, Florida Department of Public Health employees (and related agencies) work together to achieve a common mission: “to protect and promote the health of all residents and visitors in the state through organized state and community efforts, including cooperative agreements with counties.”

“A skill that is most helpful, as a current or future public health employee, involves identifying key partners and individuals related to an issue,” suggests Betsy Wood, Director at the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The Bureau’s mission is to improve individual and community health by preventing and reducing the impact of chronic diseases and disabling conditions through systems, policy, and environmental changes that make the healthy choice the easy choice.  “It is important to understand how policies are developed in all levels of organizations as well as local, state, and national government,” she says.

Increasing the number of adults who achieve and maintain a healthy weight, increasing screening and early detection of chronic diseases, and decreasing chronic disease morbidity and mortality in the state of Florida — let’s face it, these are not easy tasks. They require coordination and collaboration among many key partners. “Healthy weight, physical activity, nutrition are overarching topics that many local, state, and national public and private programs are attempting to address. With so many groups, organizations, and agencies focusing on these topics, it is a challenge to keep track of all the initiatives across the state,” says Wood.

TIP: Throughout the mentorship process, address the role of partnerships and collaboration in public health in your mentor-mentee meetings. What are the pros and cons of partnering across the private and public sectors? What are “non-traditional partners” and who are the organizations or agencies with limited exposure?

“Core elements of effective partnerships include understanding and honoring the unique contribution of each partner; respecting time commitments by organizing and managing meetings efficiently; and following up in a timely manner,” according to Wood.

Involving the community and collaborating with its members are cornerstones of efforts to improve public health. This sentiment and approach are clearly stated and supported in the Principles of Community Engagement (2nd ed.) report, which was initially developed by the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Strategies and programs that encourage the link between clinical and community “assure that community-based programs support the health care provider’s plan of care for people
with or at risk for chronic diseases,” states Woods.

The MidAtlantic Public Health Training Center has an archived webinar entitled “Maintaining Effective Public Health Partnerships.” It might be worth viewing as part of your professional development.

If any OMP participant has questions or thoughts about this post, please type them in the comments sections under this post (online) or email the program coordinator at OMP@health.usf.edu.

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Interview: Patti Anderson

We interviewed Patti Anderson, Chief of the Division of Environmental Health, to hear her thoughts on mentorships and their value for today’s public health workforce. A big part of Anderson’s job entails protecting Floridians from environmental hazards where they work, live, and play. If pursuing a role in environmental health is of interest to you, then read on to learn more about preparing for success in this field.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviors. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health.” Environmental health specialistics use a broad background of scientific, technical, and behavioral knowledge and skills to investigate, evaluate, and eliminate environmental conditions that may be harmful to people or communities.

Photo Credit: Andrew (aka woowoowoo)

“For a potential employee looking to work in this field, a science background with college degrees (preferably a Master’s) in public health or a related science/field is helpful,” says Anderson, but stresses that “[he or she] must be a good communicator, both orally and written, since we write many technical reports but then have to explain the science to the general public.”

Most people may be surprised at the extent of the education and public health messages put forth by the Division of Environmental Health, in addition to their role as regulators. “The public has to have a basic understanding of the environmental issues in order to make informed decisions about their risks.”

Other skills and characteristics Anderson looks for in potential colleagues or co-workers are: proficiency in the MS Office Suite of programs, some knowledge in HTML language or web page development, self-motivation, effective team work or collaboration, good humor, and a positive outlook. “The people that work in environmental health work hard every day to make a difference in the health of people, so are driven by a passion to make a difference.”

The ‘hot’ topics that concern environmental health professionals include the impact on public health due to:

  • Built environments and their sustainability
  • Severe weather patterns and trends
  • Supply and quality of drinking water
  • Human social behavioral trends (body piercing, tattooing, etc.)
  • Human communication versus risk communication

Unfortunately, we live during a time in public health when organizations and county health departments struggle to keep staff and/or function within smaller budgets. “Mentorships are extremely valuable especially when financial resources are limited,” says Anderson. “Mentors can help instill passion and dedication to current employees as well as potential employees. [They] can also pass along technical knowledge so that the work is of the highest quality even when performed by staff with less time on the job.”

A big thanks to Patti Anderson for her tips and advice. Click here to learn more about Florida’s Division of Environmental Health.

If any OMP participant has questions or other suggestions, post them in the comments sections under this post (online) or email the program coordinator OMP@health.usf.edu.

Storytelling in Public Health

Photo Credit: H.Koppdelany

Why do some public health messages you create get “lost in space”? Whether these messages come in the form of flyers or brochures, conversations you have with others, or letters you write to influential local or state political figures, why do messages that educate and motivate people to act in the best interest of their health often fail to make their intended impact? People still smoke, fail to prepare for disasters, don’t exercise… well, you get the idea…

“That’s where storytelling comes in,” writes Kim Krisberg in her post on The Pump Handle science blog. “Underneath the scientific jargon and statistics, there’s almost always a story about public health improving someone’s life.” As a public health reporter, Krisberg believes that storytelling can help people better understand the role that public health plays in their lives, helping them envision the negative consequences of living without robust public health systems.

Communication through the art of storytelling is one way to grab audience attention and alert them to important messages. As a case in point, look at the CDC’s use of zombies to stress the importance of emergency preparedness. They use the story of a zombie apocalypse (delivered through a graphic novel) to demonstrate essential skills and plans needed to prepare for and increase your survival during any emergency — yes, even zombies.

Andy Goodman is another great advocate of effective story telling to promote good causes. A television writer-turned-consultant, he went from scribing shows like “The Nanny” to teaching best practices in the field of public interest communications. Read his book about “Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes” or register for one of his online workshops, such as Story-telling: Tapping the Power of Narrative.

Sure, statistics are important and scientific data can drive awareness of certain public health initiatives. But maybe Zachary F. Meisel, MD, MPH, MS said it best in his research “Narrative vs Evidence-Based Medicine—And, Not Or”:

Scientific reports are genuinely dispassionate, characterless, and ahistorical. But their translation and dissemination should not be. Stories are an essential part of how individuals understand and use evidence.

But don’t take our word for it. When we asked Shannon Hughes, Director of Workforce Development at the Florida Department of Health, about her thoughts on the topic, she said that “we do ourselves a disservice by not understanding how to communicate through the art of storytelling.” Hughes believes storytelling is one of the top 7 must-have skills for any public health professional. “Instead of using charts and graphs and statistics, which are also important, we have to hone our ability to tell the story of a situation and [leverage it into] a call to action – whether it be on a community or individual level.”

If any OMP participant has questions or thoughts about this post, please type them in the comments sections under this post (online) or email the program coordinator at OMP@health.usf.edu.

7 Must-Have Skills in Public Health

Photo Credit: Michael Scott

Having skills and abilities that will transfer across various departments and organizations can be essential to sustaining a long-term career in public health. So, we asked Shannon Hughes, Director of Workforce Development at the Florida Department of Health, to chime in on the top must-have skills sets for any public health professional.

1. Listening skills. Listening is a top aspect in having strong communication skills. In any organization, maintaining open and honest communication across the chain of command is a challenge. Having transparency in your communication efforts can help in both receiving information and providing it.

2. Storytelling skills. Not understanding how to communicate through the art of storytelling can be a disservice to your career and organization. Instead of using charts and graphs and statistics, which add value, it is important to hone the ability to highlight a situation through narrative and turn a story to a ‘call to action’ on both a community and individual level.

3. Open-mindedness.  Be open to new ways of doing things. Innovation must be embraced and the ‘same old ways’ may not always be the answers to combat the challenges and issues that impact us today.

4. Technology skills.  Public health professionals must strive to be on the forefront in the use of technology to manage systems and processes, whether that means using social media to enhance your communication efforts or taking online professional development courses to increase your core competencies. Many digital tools and technological resources exist that may enhance our job efficiency.

5.  Performance improvement and performance management skills. Quality improvement has been identified as key to creating more efficient and effective public health systems.These efforts drive excellence in various public health organizations. Look into further training and certification in these areas.

6.  Process improvement skills. Understanding how to conduct process improvement and knowing the techniques used to improve processes can be essential, especially in a complex environment like public health. Consider looking into programs like Rapid Process Improvement Training.

7. Research skills. An understanding of the use of evidence-based public health practices ensures that you are applying tested and successful strategies and approaches when addressing public health issues.

“Mentoring is a very low cost way to transfer knowledge and the benefit of our experience to those who seek higher and more responsible positions,” states Hughes. She supports the FPHTC Online Mentor Program and encourages all Florida public health employees to apply. “With so many public health professionals (up to 40%) retiring in the next 5 to 7 years, it is critical that we begin now to transfer this knowledge and historical perspective to ensure the stability and excellence in public health practice.”

If any OMP participant has questions or thoughts about this post, please type them in the comments sections under this post (online) or email the program coordinator at OMP@health.usf.edu.