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Janna Bardi: Improving Health Throughout the Lifespan

Maternal and Child Health Professionals Leadership Training Program advisor Janna Bardi, MPH, speaks about the life course model and the importance of leadership skills in public health.
Janna Bardi: Improving Health Throughout the Lifespan

Janna Bardi, MPH

Maternal and Child Health Professionals Leadership Training Program advisor Janna Bardi, MPH, speaks about the life course model and the importance of leadership skills in public health.

February 27, 2015

Janna Bardi, MPH, directs the Office of Healthy Communities in the Prevention and Community Health Division at the Washington State Department of Health. Created in 2011, the office supports people and communities in improving health throughout the lifespan and in achieving health equity. Bardi also serves as an advisor to NWCPHP’s Maternal and Child Health Leadership Program. In a recent interview, she discusses the importance of leadership skills in public health.

Why were you interested in joining the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Professionals Leadership Training Program team? What do you hope to accomplish as part of the advisory committee?

I think the changes we’re experiencing under health reform and the impacts to our programs and resources from changes in the economy mean it’s important that public health workers acquire leadership skills to navigate the times.

The national attention on MCH workforce development will help MCH staff better align and leverage the changes in our health care system that can specifically benefit mothers, children, youth, and families. Opportunities include expanding insurance coverage, changing workplace policies to make breastfeeding easier for new moms, and building community partnerships for supporting healthy food access, exercise, and stress relief.

What challenges and opportunities do upcoming population health leaders, especially those working in fields related to MCH, face?

We live in a very complex environment and the demands on families are tremendous.

We recently surveyed the community about where we should focus our MCH work. The most common responses were: building resiliency and support at personal, family, and community levels; enhancing social and emotional wellbeing; fostering community engagement; improving connections to health systems; addressing social barriers (like poverty) to health; increasing access to healthy eating and active living; and increasing health equity.

We also need to do a better job in making connections between the communities we live in and our health care systems. Our health care systems will be less burdened and better functioning if they see patients for preventive visits rather than for illnesses. They will also have an easier time caring for patients if they know the family and community their patients return to supports healthy choices.

Your advisory role to the MCH Leadership Program includes developing content for the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute (NWPHLI). You are also an alumna of the Institute’s first cohort (2003–04). What was that experience like?

It was a great opportunity to learn new approaches for leading change. This was two years after 9/11—a time when we were all trying to figure out the new role of public health in emergency preparedness and response. One of my lessons learned was that clarity of roles and responsibilities, as well as good relationships with co-workers and partners, are the keys to surviving difficult situations. They’re important for successful day-to-day work, too.

The 360-evaluation and personal leadership coaching were especially helpful. Taking the feedback, along with coaching, and practicing new techniques through projects with peers was a great way to test myself and to improve my leadership skills.

The whole experience helped me clarify areas for professional improvement. It instilled the idea of always trying to learn and improve upon myself and my work. We’re never done! There is always a new challenge.

What was your favorite part of the Leadership Institute?

My favorite part was meeting people from different backgrounds who were working on a variety of projects and being able to share our challenges. I learned a lot from my peers by observing their different approaches to assessing situations and resolving problems.

Through the program, I became more comfortable providing guidance to co-workers and helping staff figure out ways to manage a project or resolve problems. I like to think of the staff in my office and the partners we have as opportunities to influence change. The more people we have feeling confident in their ability to step in and help make things better, the better chance we have at reaching our goals. It’s the flywheel in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.

What skills from the Leadership Institute have you found yourself applying to your current line of work?

I definitely gained an improved ability to stop and assess a situation, identify the type of leadership or management needed to address it, and then take action. I also improved my ability to coach others.

The 2015 Leadership Institute will be framed through a life course perspective and will draw together a diverse cohort of scholars from public health, primary care, and beyond. Why do you think this is important in today’s world?

Our world is complex, so we have to look very broadly at the circumstances that prevent or support people from achieving optimal health. The life course model recognizes the many impacts on health that occur throughout life. The approach also sees the person in the context of their community, an important locus for change. It’s important to support public health professionals in thinking critically about these factors so we can work with many partners on sustainable health improvements.

The Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute is currently accepting applications for the 2015–16 cohort year. Sign up early to save $300 with our early bird rate (until March 11, 2015). Registration deadline is March 18, 2015. Contact Deborah Gardner for additional questions about the program.

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