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Leadership Institute Welcomes Michelle Sarju as New Director

Michelle Sarju, MSW, is the new Director of the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute, replacing Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, FACPM, who is retiring after many years of service. Sarju is the Deputy Director of Open Arms Perinatal Services. She brings two decades of experience in maternal and child health (MCH), including ten years as a midwife, as well as providing strategic leadership to local, state, national, and international MCH and racial equity efforts.

Michelle Sarju, MSW, is the new Director of the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute, replacing Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, FACPM, who is retiring after many years of service. Sarju is the Deputy Director of Open Arms Perinatal Services. She brings two decades of experience in maternal and child health (MCH), including ten years as a midwife, as well as providing strategic leadership to local, state, national, and international MCH and racial equity efforts.

March 29, 2016

Longtime Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute Director, Bud Nicola, MD, MHSA, FACPM, is retiring after many years of building the Leadership Institute and guiding its scholars in developing successful leadership paths. As the next director, NWCPHP welcomes Michelle Sarju, a longtime leader in maternal and child health (MCH) and racial equity efforts at the local, state, national, and international levels. Sarju was a guest presenter at the 2015 Leadership Institute. In a recent interview, she discussed her vision for the Leadership Institute and her own leadership path.

Q. What are you looking forward to in directing the Leadership Institute?

I am honored to be given this opportunity to be the Director of the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute. We are fortunate in this region and state to have many accomplished public health professionals, and I am excited to be a part of this dynamic and skilled group of people. I look forward to the opportunity to engage and strategize with scholars to develop ideas and direction to help improve our region's health.

Q. What is one challenge you foresee for public health, including MCH-related fields, and what do leaders need to focus on to meet that challenge?

Since 1999, my public health focus has been Maternal Child Health (MCH). As research has shown, particular attention must be devoted to eliminating health disparities through advancing policies and practices that promote health equity.

Q. Your long health leadership and health care career has given you big-picture, broad insights about MCH and public health leadership. Can you tell us a bit about how this career path started and how it has shaped your vision of public health leadership?

My path to MCH work started in the for-profit world as a volunteer at a local alternative high school. This school had a very effective program for teen mothers. At one of my volunteer visits with the teens, I listened to why they chose to breastfeed their babies. I did not yet have any children but was so impressed and convinced by the testimony of these young women that I knew their words would influence my work and life. From peer-based community work to health care provision and now MCH systems work, I am fortunate to have had such a path that has allowed me to gain depth and breadth in the field.

Q. What can public health learn from community organizations about collective impact?

Community-based organizations (CBOs) such as Open Arms Perinatal Services are vital to the success of effective collective impact strategies. Successful community-based work involves authentic engagement and the understanding that within communities are leaders who understand the community's needs. CBOs typically have strong relationships with other community leaders, organizations, and funders, which positions them uniquely to build relationships and other partnerships.

Q. We've talked about applying a health equity and social justice lens to everything at the Leadership Institute. What does that mean for public health leadership, and what should 2016 Leadership Institute scholars be thinking about regarding health equity and social justice before the institute starts?

This is a complex question that does not have a simple answer! Nevertheless, scholars should be thinking about their role in creating health equity, whether it be from a position of influence and power or as a member of a team in which everyone has a leadership role in achieving desired goals. Applying an equity and social justice lens to public health work helps to focus efforts on creating policies, programs, and systems which lead to equitable solutions for individuals, families, and communities.

Q. Tell us a fun or interesting fact about you that we may not know?

I am a women's basketball fanatic. Go UW Women's basketball! I am excited about the upcoming Seattle Storm season—I sense a championship in the near future.

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