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

24 September, 2012

Communication, Collaboration and Professional Development


Cheryl Rhodes, AUCD-CDC Fellow





I’m fortunate to have spent the past 2 ½ years as AUCD Fellow at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It’s been an exciting, productive and creative time that will be ending soon. I’d like to share lessons learned about the importance of effective communication, collaboration and professional development.

Effective Communication.
Every day I am asked to communicate (verbally or in writing) about complex issues to broad and varied audiences, in a limited amount of time or space.  I’ve learned that communicating a message is more about understanding your role, the intended audience and what you want to accomplish than deciding what to say and that basic guidelines - be clear, be brief, and engage the audience - apply whether giving a research summary, a project update, or a wedding toast! Resources on the health communication process and the Plain Writing Act of 2010 can be found at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cancerlibrary/pinkbook  and www.plainlanguage.gov.  

Collaboration.
Alexander Graham Bell said “great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds”.   It may take a little adjustment in thinking or practice and definitely some patience and time to trust the process, but the end result can be exciting.   Working collaboratively has provided many opportunities to share resources, knowledge and expertise and learn from others.  Now, when tackling a project, I immediately think of potential partners and resources, seeking as broad representation as possible.  I’m convinced that as change agents, we have to work collaboratively.  There’s too much to get done with very limited resources to do otherwise.

Professional Development
When I began my fellowship, I was encouraged to take advantage of professional development opportunities, especially those not in my field or directly related to my project.  Some of the most interesting and memorable learning experiences were gained through trainings and webinars, volunteering for exercises and planning committees and attending national conferences that gave me deeper appreciation of the role of public health.  Wherever you are professionally, take risks; challenge yourself.  Step out of your ‘comfort zone’, step up when presented with options for new learning or leadership.   You may learn a little or a lot but your efforts will keep you engaged and energized and your example will inspire others. 

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