This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

29 June, 2010

Public Health…The family needed a doctor!

As I was brainstorming on what to blog about, I was talking with Annie and recalled attending a family reunion shortly after I had finished my Master of Public Health. My father’s cousin asked me when I was going on to med school. I told this cousin that I had thoughtfully considered my interest to improve and maintain health more broadly, found that public health and social marketing were a great match for me, and that I was job hunting in Washington, DC, since I wanted to work in health promotion at the national level. A thoughtful answer for a snotty question – right? Gets worse. Said cousin goes onto say, “That’s too bad. The family needs a doctor!” At that point I talked up the fact the I had just finished a prevention research fellowship at NICHD, NIH, that I was sitting for the CHES exam the following month, and that philosophically I had changed my focus from wanting to do direct patient care to doing more to help keep people well and maintaining health. (Yes, I was pre-med biology major! My clinic shadowing experience made me pass out, just like the beginning of Quincy!) Then I quickly said, “Oh, look, Cousin so and so is here! Oh, I must go say hello. Talk with you later!” … Whew!

Family mingling is sometimes the toughest mingling there is. Bottom line, the skill that I rely on the most in my day to day work, and life in general, is relationship building.

So, what is public health anyway? It’s the electricity coming safely into your home to make that alarm ring in the morning. It’s clean water for you to brush your teeth. It’s having healthy options from the grocery store to the restaurant. It’s knowing that if you have a disability, you can live well because you have access to medical treatment and screenings, a good education, and an environment where it is safe to live, work and play.

Making people want to adopt healthier behavior of their own accord – that’s social marketing. This is where relationship building meets public health. How do you persuade people to do what they can to be healthy? Talk with them and build a relationship. You’ve heard the term focus groups. That’s just one way to have a better understanding of the communities you are trying to serve. Discussion groups, key informant interviews, phone interviews with target audiences, surveys, and polls will all provide you with a gut check on how to deliver your message in a way that is relevant and will be heard.

According to communication theory, people need to hear a message about eight times before they really “hear” it. So, I use several different tools to convey public health messages, like the internet, social media, printed materials like fact sheets and brochures, and traditional media. (I had the opportunity to serve as a spokesperson for a National Council on Folic Acid radio media tour earlier this year.) It’s about relationship building and helping people see you as a resource in a particular area. Social media is a great tool to assist you in maintaining and growing work relationships…even if you think you don’t need it. (See How Social Media Helps Dinosaurs to Dance.)

You are fortunate enough to be connected with a national network of university-based interdisciplinary programs aka AUCD! I have the good fortune of serving on the AUCD-CDC cooperative agreement, so here is the shameless self promotion portion of my post. Here are some tips on how to harness the power of the AUCD network to help you build your professional relationships:

1. Seek out ways to support grant funded efforts. Research Topics of Interest or RTOIs are great translational science efforts that strive to minimize the time between a brilliant idea and an effective, evidence based practice. Working or volunteering with a research team is a great skill that will assist you in your job seeking efforts. (See When They Require Experience And You Have None.)

2. Submit a proposal for the upcoming AUCD conference. Your work may be just the information that another Early Career Professional would benefit from! Plus, this is a great way to “practice” some of your content for a potential publication in the future.

3. Look for ways to support the efforts of the State Disability and Health Grantees. Even if you reside in a state without a grantee, you can possibly serve as a reviewer or a subject matter expert long distance.

4. Volunteer with a coalition or work with a group of partners. With limited resources, we all need to work together in creative ways to be effective and speak with a unified voice. AUCD supports the work of the Friends of NCBDDD, which has many partners from around the country.

My point – get out there! You can do it! There are relationships to be had! And when you are in a tough interview setting, or an uncomfortable family setting, it’s important to stay positive and true to your own goals.

23 June, 2010

Why Policy is Important

Policy, for better or for worse, is a reflection of our society’s values. In its creation, it is shaped by public opinion, and in its implementation, it has the power to change public opinion. This phenomenon is evident in a piece of legislation called Rosa’s Law, which is moving through Congress this year. Rosa’s Law (S.2781) is a bill that aims to replace the antiquated and stigmatizing term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in certain federal laws. This bill is important because words have meaning - we think too seldom about how the language we use to describe people reflects how we perceive them. When laws and court decisions describe people with disabilities as “suffering” from impairments or “mentally retarded”, it indicates that society views them as having a lower quality of life and incapable of leading independent, productive lives. In the disability field, we know those stereotypes aren’t true, and changing the terminology we use can help redefine how society perceives people with disabilities. Rosa’s law is just one example; there are a number of key federal laws covering a range of issues that could be improved to serve people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, many of our lawmakers are not educated about disability issues. Here’s where you come in. Yes, YOU can influence public policy! Before I started work at AUCD, the thought of contacting my Senators’ or Representative’s offices was intimidating – after all, what do they care what I think? I’m just one person! Little did I know, it’s easy to do and even a handful of calls can make an overworked hill staffer stop and take notice. Here are a few tips for getting involved in policymaking:

  • Know who represents you on Capitol Hill. You can find them easily by using AUCD’s Action Center – just scroll down and enter your zip code in the “Find Your Elected Officials” Section. Underneath each official’s picture are links for more information – you can see how they voted on disability issues and see what committees they participate on.
  • Use the capitol switchboard – (202)224-3121– to call their offices about issues that are important to you. Calls are answered by staff, so ask to speak to the person who handles the issue about which you want to comment. Identify yourself as a constituent (sometimes they will ask for your name and address), and leave a brief message. For example: “Please tell Senator/Representative (name) that I support/oppose S.____/H.R. _____” and tell them why. Always be courteous.
  • If you have more to say about an issue, a letter may be a better choice. You can find the address for the member you wish to contact on AUCD’s Action Center by searching for your elected official. Try to emphasize why your stance on a bill would benefit your district or state.
  • Watch for action alerts from advocacy organizations. These will help you know the best time to contact Congress so that your message will have the greatest impact.
  • Check AUCD’s Action Center regularly to see the most current alerts and email your Senators and Representative directly. We have prepared sample messages for you to use when you call or write so you know exactly what to say.
  • Find valuable resources about current legislation on AUCD’s Public Policy page. Our weekly newsletter, Legislative News In Brief, is posted here each Monday.
  • Get involved with local advocacy groups and take every opportunity to be involved in local policymaking efforts. Remember that you have valuable knowledge to share, and don’t be afraid to share that knowledge with policymakers!
  • Finally, look for opportunities like AUCD’s Policy Fellowship to get involved. AUCD selects a new fellow every year to work with Legislative Affairs staff in Washington, DC. It’s an excellent way to dive into policy work! We are currently accepting applications for 2010-2011.

16 June, 2010

Beyond the Expected Working Path

Many times we have a clear idea about our career goals and objectives and sometimes we don’t. The beauty of it is that there are many paths to accomplishing great things. I think the unexpected opportunities can be the most rewarding, challenging and ultimately lead to incredible new adventures that will broaden your knowledge and contributions to the world. I like Danielle’s (author of the post on June 8, 2010) image of taking a flying leap into the world. I encourage you to take a flying leap and think creatively about your path and welcome the unexpected.

It may not be a full-time job or a volunteer position, but an experience such as fellowship that advances your professional development. Fellowships can allow you to build incredible new and long-term connections, find other exciting and stimulating areas of interest, and participate in innovative projects, initiatives, policy developments and systems change. Also, they can open your world to other practices and cultures because the appointment may be in another city, state, country or other international setting. Here are a few fellowships to add to your list of opportunities to consider:

  • AUCD Public Policy Fellowship: The Policy Fellowship is an opportunity for an advanced AUCD network member to live and work in Washington, DC for one year, learning about the Association, current legislation affecting people with disabilities and their families, and exercising leadership skills. The Fellow's responsibilities will be developed based on the needs of the Association and the interest and experience of the Fellow.
  • Commonwealth Fund Fellowships: Commonwealth Fund fellowship programs are designed to give promising young researchers the opportunity for in-depth study of various health care policy topics, working with investigators, policy analysts, government officials, and others in a number of U.S. and international settings.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellowship: The fellowship is an outstanding opportunity for exceptional mid-career health professionals and behavioral and social scientists with an interest in health and health care policy. Fellows experience and participate in the policy process at the federal level and use that leadership experience to improve health, health care, and health policy.
  • Aspen Institute Leadership Programs: The Aspen Institute fosters leadership through young-leader fellowships around the globe, which bring a selected class of proven leaders together for an intense multi-year program and commitment. The fellows become better leaders and apply their skills to significant challenges.
There are other fellowships out there and other “out of the box” opportunities. Enjoy your search and be open and flexible to every prospect that comes your way. And please share any ideas you have to think creatively about career paths.

08 June, 2010

Navigating Your First Job in the Field

Having started off on my own journey into the field not long ago I believe it is my duty to pull in a few lessons learned you might want to keep in your own pocket once you have finished your coursework and it’s time to take a flying leap out into the world of full-time employment.

  • Ask lots of questions and be curious; this is not a field that tends to attract overwhelmingly angry or mean-spirited individuals so don't hesitate to speak up if you want to learn a new skill or get involved in a project.
  • Know that you will mis-step from time to time. Own your mistakes, be reflective about them, and move along.
  • Get to know your coworkers; it will provide context in helping to understand their workstyle and motivations as well as make collaborations that much easier.
  • Be open to learning new things. Employers appreciate a “can do” attitude. If you don’t know how to do something you are asked to do, be willing to acquire the new skills required to complete the task.
  • Network every chance you get; start shaking hands like you’re running for elected office and get comfortable talking about what your organization does, why their work is important, what role you play in their work, and how the position fits into your long term career goals. The networking is not over because you have found a job, this is your chance to expand and enrich the professional network you are a part of.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities that are relevant to your work and will enrich the organization you are a part of. Someday you will want to take a step up in your career and you want to equip yourself now for that day.
  • Actively seek out mentors to provide their honest and critical appraisal when you need it. Remember to thank these people who have helped you and are helping you along the way.
  • Finally, a positive attitude can make an enormous difference. People will notice your positive attitude and the contribution it makes to the overall workplace enviroment.

A Few Important Resource to Tap:
  • Professional Associations

    Why? Professional associations may seem expensive but they often offer discounts, produce regular publications, and hold conferences which can provide valuable networking time. Find out which associations are out there that support people in your field and join one or two.

  • LinkedIn

    Why? LinkedIn is not only a great resource for job hunting, it’s a great resource for understanding the power that lies in your professional and social networks. It is also an opportunity to expand this network with your new work contacts.

  • The Community You Live In

    Why? It is likely that volunteer opportunities exist in local organizations that could provide you great community service experiences. It is also likely that universities may be sponsoring events of personal or professional interest to you. Many communities also have social networking groups that will afford you the opportunity to expand your network even more and meet people doing similar work. Notice what is going on in the community you head home to each night after work and play an active role in these activities.

02 June, 2010

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” – Carl Rogers

Not only is Carl Rogers one of my favorite psychologists because he believed that intervention should be “person-centered” and education should be “student-centered” (I see this as parallel to LEND’s family-centered care emphasis), but also because his life story is a remarkable example of how one can learn from their experiences and change. Rogers’ parents, as he reported, very much cared for him and raised him with a strong ethical foundation. His father insisted a “scientific” basis to his work and that of his children, and this influenced his decision to go into agriculture. After attending several religious conferences during college he decided to go into the ministry. When that field did not feel quite right, he began to explore other options, took a few classes in psychology, and eventually he found his place in the field.

How does Carl Rogers tie into my blog post about professional development? Well, the quote at the beginning of this post is a personal “mission statement” for my own professional development. Some people might say that I rarely use the clinical skills I learned in my clinical child psychology training in my current career as an AUCD Program Manager. However, the skills I learned in my graduate training, including my LEND traineeships at Indiana University’s Riley Child Development Center and the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development, are skills I use and build on every day.

How is this possible? I sought out and took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to me, and continue to do so. I have always known that I wanted to do several different things with my degree, and my experiences throughout my early professional development have allowed me to do just that. However, very few of the larger opportunities will simply fall into a person’s lap. When I wanted to attend the AUCD Annual Conference and Policy Seminar as a trainee, I told my director it would benefit me, but I would also come back with the knowledge and materials to share with 100 other trainees. During graduate school, I wanted more exposure to different cultures and to teaching. I spoke with the dean about how spending time at our sister school in Athens, Greece would benefit my education and allow me to share my unique experiences with the Greek students. Because I wanted to use my experience to benefit others, they were willing to help me achieve my goals.

Every opportunity inspired me to think in a different way, continue to learn, and pass my knowledge on to others. Not only did these experiences change the way I thought about my field, but it enabled me to see the “big picture” (i.e., a broader or systems perspective). Talk to your mentors and directors about various opportunities and possibilities. I encourage you to seek out opportunities, even if they seem out of reach. If you find one that would help you learn and grow, figure out a way to help it benefit others as well, and share this with your mentor or director. The experiences a person seeks out above and beyond the basic requirements can truly help them attain a unique perspective that will enable them to continue to “learn and change.”

Note: You can learn more about Carl Rogers by reading his classic text On Becoming a Person or The Carl Rogers Reader.