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Apr 29

Public Health Leadership In Action

By Trish Neiworth

If you Google the term “leadership” today, you’ll find 266,000,000 results, arguably more than could be read in a lifetime. While written resources are plentiful, locating relevant practical applications may be harder to find.

With the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute scholars at the University of Washington graduating this month, we saw firsthand how aspiring public health leaders were making that connection—applying leadership concepts in real-life settings. Below are brief synopses of some of the leadership scholars’ projects, demonstrating public health leadership in action.

Shifting the curve. Public health leadership scholars from Grant County, a rural and outdoor recreation hub in Central Washington, saw a disconnect among staff because the 21 employees in the small health district were physically in two different locations and split into program silos. Theresa Adkinson, Todd Phillips, and Shawta Sackett developed a “staffing integration project,” a three-step plan to introduce systems thinking, build morale, and provide staff an opportunity to help develop a vision for their office. This culminated with a staff retreat where a professional visual recorder helped staff build an “asset map” from the learning and reflection.

A post-retreat survey showed their efforts have already paid off. Scholars measured knowledge attainment and perception and found that after the retreat 100% of the participants felt staff members—even those who were not administrators, managers or supervisors—can be leaders. The vast majority of the staff also indicated they are now in favor of the concept of working on multi-disciplinary team projects to help bridge the silos.

From volunteer advocate to national leader. Sherry Reynolds, leadership scholar, detailed her path from patient advocate in Seattle, WA to national leader in Washington, D.C. Reynolds mapped her progression from the Puget Sound Health Alliance and the Washington state chapter of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), as well as her mentoring of startups, to being recently named Project Director of Provider Adoption of Patient Centered Health IT Tools, at the Office of National Coordinator, HHS, in Washington, D.C. Her new role or “pivot” as she described it occurred during the Leadership Institute, where she took action as a result of her strengths assessment to “get paid for my passion.”

Division-wide data dreams. Jessica Duke, leadership scholar, focused on ways Oregon Public Health might “dream” of using data to help gain support and promote better understanding of public health in the state. As part of her project, she interviewed every section manager in the division, worked directly with the Director of Science, and made sure the work was connected to division needs. Next steps include presenting her findings and incorporating them into the strategic work plan for epidemiology and surveillance.

Other leadership projects focused on:

  • realigning resources and programs at the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation,
  • aligning Washington Department of Health’s Office of Infectious Disease for the future,
  • building a Health Promotion Strategic Plan for the Central District Health Department in Idaho,
  • developing a Leadership Development Training Plan for the communityat the Spokane Regional Health District,
  • improving HIV Program leadership and instituting Communicable Disease staff process improvements at Clark County Public Health, and
  • implementing an accredited diabetic self-management education program for Southwest District Health in Caldwell, Idaho.

Nationally known leadership expert Warren Bennis has said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” The 2012–13 Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute Scholars applied this concept directly to where they live and work.

For more ways public health leaders are adapting in changing times, see the latest edition of Northwest Public Health, a unique journal from the UW School of Public Health.


Latrissa (Trish) Neiworth, MA Ed is the Coordinator for the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in teaching and leadership at Pepperdine University.

Diane Markus says:
May 01, 2013 10:26 AM

The Leadership Institute was such a great learning experience. Today I am sorting through the different resources I accumulated during this program, and continue to very useful, helpful tools to apply as projects come up. Many thanks to all my fellow participants for sharing your great Leadership Projects.

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