Interview: Ron Davis

Community health education and health promotion are two of the top five areas of interest to our mentees in the FPHTC Online Mentor Program. Of course, there are many topics in which public health professionals play a significant role in educating the public about making safe and healthy lifestyle choices. Whether it’s energy conservation, preventing the spread of communicable diseases, or cessation of smoking and tobacco use, getting people to change is not always easy!

“While the education approach is important, it only works on a certain portion of the population,” says Rod Davis, Statewide Tobacco Policy Manager at the Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida, Division of Community Health Promotion at the Florida Department of Health. Davis’ primary role is to establish the direction in which to pursue tobacco policy initiatives statewide. He provides training and technical assistance to local grantees to help them achieve policy success. “If you want to be successful in tobacco control and other realms of public health, it is essential to understand the local political process.”

Photo Credit: franciscopgomes

Photo Credit: franciscopgomes

Davis is a strong supporter of mentoring. “Mentorships can prepare future public health leaders for the realities of working in the public sphere,” he says. “One reality is that there can be a lot of frustration and a lack of appreciation for the efforts of public health. But another reality is that over time you get to see how your effort make a difference to society and how society comes to accept, appreciate, and benefit from the changes that you have made.”

Working in health promotion and community health education, especially tobacco prevention, requires tenacity and ambition. “Unlike many other arenas of public health, we face an opponent in the tobacco industry that is well-funded, well-connected, and highly adaptable,” says Davis.

When asked what skills are needed for success in this field, Davis stresses “a desire and an ability to learn.” Given that the field of tobacco control is constantly changing, public health professionals must have passion and persistence. They must be willing to study history and to develop the understanding of human behavior required to predict and combat the tobacco industry’s tactics for keeping people addicted.

Any mentee or future public health professional interested in entering the field of tobacco control should keep in mind the following:

  • Tobacco control is an interesting intersection of policy, politics, and public health.
  • Education is not the key focus of tobacco control, but a tool in its service.
  • A lot of work is done through webinars and conference calls with people throughout the state and nation.

A big thanks to Ron Davis for his insights. Click here to learn more about the Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida.

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


Interview: Adam Yanckowitz

When it comes to emergency operations, specifically in meeting the public health and medical needs of a community during an emergency, Essential Support Function #8 (ESF-8) is vital. There are many public health and healthcare professionals whose expertise is called upon under ESF-8.

Photo Credit: US Aid

Photo Credit: US Aid

“I would say that ESF-8 is greater than a healthcare system,” says Adam Yanckowitz, Director of Office of Emergency Operations in FDOH Broward County Health Department. As the lead agency for ESF-8 at the state-level, the Florida Department of Health coordinates preparedness efforts statewide to assure the healthcare system is ready to respond when needed.

“It is more than just hurricane planning and response,” says Yanckowitz. The Office of Emergency Operations is the leader in public health response matters and works collaboratively with local, county, state, and federal agencies.

Less than 2% of all OMP participants list ’emergency response’ as one of their areas of interest. Yet, ESF-8 is comprised of public health professionals across a variety of fields, including (but not limited to) those in environmental health, epidemiology, ambulance deployment, hazardous materials responses, laboratory response network, fatality management, special needs shelters and so much more. “ESF-8 is the mechanism and coordination,” says Yanckowitz.

Having the skills and abilities that transfer across various departments and organizations can be essential to sustaining a long-term career in public health. For mentees in the program looking to work in or collaborate with emergency operations, Yanckowitz suggests having the following necessary skill sets:

Yanckowitz recognizes the challenges that come from growing leadership expertise within an organization, which is why he believes mentorship and leadership go “hand-in-hand.” “Under the direction of the mentor, the [mentee] is given immediate access to valuable insights and past experiences,” he says. “Individuals are learning by doing and are able to practice what they are learning.”

During a time in public health when organizations and county health departments struggle to keep staff and function within smaller budgets, mentorships can be helpful developing future leaders and sustaining the efforts of public health workers. “As staff retires and attrition occurs, the transfer of knowledge from mentor to mentee is critical,” says Yanckowitz. “In addition to managing and motivating people, it’s also important that mentors help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs.”

A big thanks to Adam Yanckowitz for his insights. Click here to learn more about the Office of Emergency Operations.

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

Interview: Lucy Gee

“I remember a seminar in which the speaker said that the hugest mistake public sector workers make is saying that we can’t measure what we do like for-profit corporations because we’re not for profit,” says Lucy Gee, Medical Quality Assurance Director at Florida’s Division of Medical Quality Assurance (MQA). “Can you imagine standing before the legislature trying to justify your program and saying we can’t really provide you with a measure of the value of what we do like the private sector can because we’re a “not-for-results” organization?”

We spoke to Lucy Gee about the must-have skills needed to both succeed as a public health professional, and also be effective in the public health role.

The success of a public health professional relies heavily on their ability to communicate, regardless of their position or rank. Professionals working in the public sector must know how to translate their efforts into terms that are understandable by elected leaders, voters, and private sector employers, believes Gee.  “Government is misunderstood and maligned because we have failed to effectively communicate what we do into measurable value, return on investment, performance outputs, and results,” she says.

Another skill public health professionals should consider developing further, especially if they are interested in a career in MQA, is data analytics. “If I’m interviewing a management-level person to work in MQA and they possess knowledge of how to use process improvement tools, data driven-decision making, they already have a huge advantage over any other candidate,” says Gee.

The Division of MQA uses a wealth of data to develop strategies that impact their three key processes:

  1. License health care practitioners who meet minimum standards of competency established by the legislature.
  2. Enforce standards of practice governing the practice of the health care profession.
  3. Provide information to the public to help them make informed health care decisions (through annual reports:

Photo Credit: Cavale Doom

In the past two years, MQA has addressed Florida’s nation-wide reputation as being the epicenter of prescription drug abuse, diversion, and deaths. Together with law enforcement teams, MQA was able to cut down the number of pain clinics from 950 to 443 within a short two-year time span.

There is an exciting future in the role of analytics in public health and in the MQA division, especially when the evaluation of data can help form preemptive strategies for predicting workforce shortages and professional gaps. Gee believes that this kind of data analysis could be used effectively in proposing legislation to eliminate unnecessary barriers to licensure, as well as determine new areas for enforcement focus based on complaint data. In an effort to avoid future public health concerns, like the issues of prescription drug abuse, she wants to always be prepared. “I like to call this preemptive rather than reactive government,” she says.

A big thanks to Lucy Gee for her insights. Click here to learn more about the Division of Medical Quality Assurance.

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

Go Ahead, Mentor Someone!

The FPHTC Online Mentor Program (OMP) is unique in that all participants self-select their roles as either mentors or mentees. This self-selection process stems from the belief that everyone has the ability to teach someone else something worth learning, and everyone has the ability to learn something valuable from someone else’s experiences. This program encourages professional development in all forms and helps create opportunities that support meaningful mentorships.

Wes Payne, from the Florida Department of Health’s School Health Services, enrolled in the OMP as a mentor in March of 2012. “Looking back over the 20 years of my career, I realize that much about learning how to work in the private and public health arena came from my own experiences,” he says. “My belief is that if I had had a mentor during these early years it would have ‘sanded off the rough edges’ and made these experiences more manageable.”

As a professional in school health services, Payne works to help minimize health barriers to learning for public school students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, including but not limited to childhood obesity, managing chronic conditions in the school setting, protocols for anaphylactic shock and the use of epi-pens, and maintaining an appropriate nurse-to-school ratio.

Photo Credit: Kristine “kchanliz”

As a mentor, Payne hopes to highlight the importance of school health programs as a component of the public health system and the impact it has in schools across Florida. “When one considers children spend many of their waking hours at school, it is important to ensure that there is a system in place that assures that Florida student’s are healthy,” he says.

From the assurance role, Payne is responsible to monitor local school health programs and serve as a legislative analyst for school health related policies.  “On a local level, school health staff work tirelessly to provide direct clinical care and education to students so that they are healthy and ready to learn in the classroom.”

Payne encourages all mentees to develop effective writing skills for all channels of communication – from formal reports to social media correspondence. In addition, he stresses the development of critical thinking skills to help “be confident to handle autonomy, make sound decisions, and find the connection between opportunities you have to learn and how those opportunities will affect your future.”

But regardless of job-related knowledge, “the best indicator of success in the workplace is emotional intelligence,” say Payne.  Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. “[It] is critical to managing your behavior, adapting to various situations, and making critical decisions,” he says.

In general, it is important for future public health professionals to have an understanding of how large systems work and have the abilities to facilitate relationships, solve problems, and assimilate and communicate complex information.

Even as a more experienced public health professional, Wes Payne certainly recognizes the value in having a mentor to keep him in check and help him stay focused in a proactive manner. Good thing he can enroll in the program as a mentee, too!

Want to know if you should be a mentor or mentee? Discover your mentorship role HERE.

A big thanks to Wes Payne for his insights. Click HERE to learn more about the School Health Services.

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