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: www.aucd.org/ecp

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.

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