This National Public Health Week, we’re celebrating the public health workforce and their invaluable contributions to securing a healthier present and future for our communities. Entering the public health workforce is a big transition for recent graduates, made even larger by the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of health communication as a tool to promote health by addressing the unique needs of communities across the country.
Three members of JPA’s Public Health Practice, Kathlyn Farmer, Leah McCleary and Eisha Rao, share why they chose to join the public health workforce as health communicators and their vision for the future of public health.
Why did you choose to work in public health/health communications?
Kathlyn: I have always felt a calling to work in health care. I first felt it as a child enjoying playing the piano and dressing up as an elf during Christmas at nursing homes. In high school, I followed that calling and applied to colleges with the thought of practicing medicine (although a few weeks into a biochemistry major proved otherwise), and after college I worked in end-of-life care. There was a consistent theme of wanting to care for individuals at vulnerable points in their lives. The only time I questioned if, and how, I could do this was when I realized I didn’t want to be the health care provider. Switching my major to marketing and communications was fulfilling intellectually, but I never felt the “ah-ha” moment until my first health communications class.
The class demonstrated the importance of enhancing communication across the healthcare continuum and allowed me to utilize my creativity in a more meaningful way. While obtaining my master’s in public heath, I felt even more connected to my personal and professional journey. It prompted me to have new questions about health care delivery: how do we influence communities to make healthier choices? Can we impact individuals’ self-efficacy to change behavior? How do we ensure a certain demographic knows when they should see a doctor? Can we use traditional marketing strategies to promote lifestyle changes? Those answers can all be found in public health communication.
Public health practitioners have the unique ability to impact positive health outcomes within communities and larger populations. As health communicators, we are uniquely tasked with developing the messaging to influence the desired outcome. JPAers often talk about their “why.” My “why” hasn’t changed; I want to care for individuals at a time they need it. Through public health communication, I realized the way I can do this is by connecting individuals to the information and resources that can make an impact on their health.
What do you hope to see from the public health workforce in the future?
Eisha: The pandemic has brought increased recognition to public health as being essential to our future, and I’m excited to see the workforce expand even further and become more integrated. Public health affects us every day – from the food we eat to the roads we travel on to the buildings we enter. It’s important that the people who work on each individual facet of public health collaborate so that we can address the populations’ well-being from all angles. We’re seeing an increased focus on health equity training and meeting people where they are to approach their health, and I’m hopeful that the future public health workforce will be even more empathetic, synergistic, and representative of the populations that they serve.
We’ve also seen in the past few years that the public health workforce requires resources and support in order to truly thrive. I’d love to see increased federal funding for health workers, such as the recently passed Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which became the first law supporting the wellbeing of health care professionals. Schools can also encourage students to join the public health workforce by increasing exposure to the field.Without the opportunity to learn about public health and complete health communication work during my college years, I don’t know if I would have considered a career in this field.
Overall, I hope to see more diverse, collaborative, and supported public health workforce in the future. I knowI want to spend my life helping people live healthier lives – not just in moments of pain, but also on a daily basis. With a more robust public health workforce, this goal can be a reality.
What’s one aspect of working at JPA that you appreciate most when it comes to public health?
Leah: At JPA, I appreciate that the clients I get to work with reflect how broad the public health field is – with our work ranging from increasing vaccine access and equity to supporting physician wellbeing by developing mental health resources. Because the field is so far-reaching, I’ve had the opportunity to work across many projects that reach very different populations with their own unique set of needs, all the while working towards an overarching goal to improve and promote public health.
As a health communicator working in public health, one of the most exciting parts of our job is that there is no one size fits all approach to helping to promote public health. While this may broaden our work, this also allows our team room to use creative problem-solving and implement innovative public health solutions to influence health for each client’s unique needs using an audience-centered approach.
At the end of the day, this is what I love about the work I do at JPA. I know the work I do to promote public health at JPA will make a lasting impact and help people, which is a big part of my “why”. At JPA, we like to establish our “why” in the same way that some people set daily intentions – as a guiding North Star that drives the passion behind the work we do. At the core of my “why” is the fulfillment of working every day to not only improve health, but to change lives through public health.