Season 1 Episode 10
Laurie Walkner Welcome to Share Public Health, the Midwestern Public Health Training Center’s podcast connecting you to public health topics, issues, and colleagues throughout our region and the country, highlighting that we all share in public health. Thank you for tuning into this series of interviews with public health leaders where we learn about different perspectives on current and emerging public health issues.
Suzanne Hawley Hi, welcome to our leadership series. My name is Suzanne Hawley and I’m from the Midwestern Public Health Training Center, we’re glad we’re here today to be joined with a real public health leader from learning about public health skills from a personal perspective. So, thank you for joining us today, why don’t you introduce yourself tell us about where you’re from and how you got into public health?
Lindsay Huse Sure. I’m Lindsay Huse and I am currently the Chief of Public Health Nursing for the Wyoming Department of Health and I am also the outgoing president of the Association of Public Health Nurses, and that has been a fantastic journey. Public health nursing has been my love and my absolute just favorite thing in the whole world really for about 18 years now, which has been my entire nursing career, and really I got into public health when I was in nursing school and kind of went through the program panicked a little bit because I really discovered that although I was good at all of the other kinds of nursing, they just really didn’t speak to me. I found myself frustrated a lot because I would leave a clinical experience thinking, “Why did this person get sick? There had to have been something that could have been done to prevent their heart disease or their obesity?” Or, you know, whatever they happen to be suffering from. And so when I got to my community health rotation and I realized that there was this entire field of nursing that was devoted to prevention and really looking at kind of more the upstream factors that led to disease and that we could in fact really focus on prevention and helping people live healthier lives to start with, I felt like I was home and I kind of figured that out within the first five minutes of class in my community health class. So, I have been a public health nurse at heart ever since.
Hawley Great, so what excites you most now about public health?
Huse Oh my goodness, you know, I really feel like in public health, and public health nursing specifically, there are so many opportunities to have an impact, and, you know, nursing is wonderful anyway because you touch lives every single day. In public health nursing, you’re touching entire communities every single day, so it just my favorite part is that your reach is so big. So, while it’s wonderful to have that individual impact, it’s so great to know that, you know, you’re able to basically have- have an impact on an entire community, and that can that can last for generations.So, that’s exciting. That’s really exciting.
Hawley So, the field of public health is- is changing all the time, which you know, and I’m just wondering what skills do you think are relevant for public health leaders to manage this change or lead this change?
Huse One of my absolute favorite things to tell people on their very first day in public health is that flexibility is your friend and the sooner you can really accept that and learn to love it, the easier your life will be because absolutely things are changing, not just at all times, but sometimes just incredibly fast. And so, just knowing that- that is part and parcel of the land, and being okay with that is so important from a leadership perspective. You have to understand that change is hard for people, and to really anticipate people’s needs going through those changes and so thinking ahead and understanding, you know, for me personally, you know, I have a staff of about 150 nurses that I- that I oversee. We, like any staff, have varying levels of comfort with change: some love it like I do, others absolutely hate it, and so I know that if I’m going to effectively manage that change I have to be very transparent; I have to include them and make sure that they understand what’s going on and why it’s happening. If possible to get their buy-in, of course, that sometimes we have to make a change, and they’re just not going to like it, but to really, really focus on bringing them along with you and that change and getting them excited for the change. And, you know, if you’ve done a good job up front of building good trust with your staff and with your colleagues and your partners, then when you say this is changing there, it just goes more smoothly because they trust that you’re not going to lead them into the mud. And so, you know, flexibility, building trust, lots and lots of communication. And I can’t even emphasize that enough; that communication is just paramount to leading anybody through change.
Hawley So, I like the word flexibility because it’s simple, but obviously. There’s a lot involved with that, and I mean really that’s a great advice for life really, you know, in terms of just living as a human being, so thank you for that. And when you talk about communication that makes me want to ask you, you know, persuasive communication is considered this critical strategic skill. I’m wondering, what you think, in terms of what parts of communication has been helpful or important for you and your work?
Huse Yes, persuasive communication and flexible communication.
Huse Extremely important. You never know who your audience- audience is going to be and you don’t know when you’re going to have a certain audience, you know. You don’t know who you’re gonna get in an elevator with, you don’t know who’s going to be in an audience- I actually had the opportunity to provide a session at a Cancer Coalition meeting on the importance of building a culture of vaccination to encourage providers to build offices that would be friendly for parents to want to get the HPV vaccine essentially and kind of helping providers think through those factors around, you know, vaccine hesitancy and education and kind of making it a normalized thing from the time they check in through an entire encounter and things like that. So, I gave this presentation on that and I chose my language very specifically for that audience, and as I’m up there speaking, we discovered that our brand new Health Director was sitting in the back of the room, who doesn’t have a health or public health background, and so I realized, oh he probably doesn’t know what I’m talking about sometimes. And so, as I’m up there having communication, I have to start- I have to start you know changing maybe my wording a little bit-
Hawley And make it look totally natural.
Huse Absolutely. Maybe a little more explanatory.
Huse I might have made- have the physicians in the group scratch their heads because they were thinking I know this, but really because I, you know, when you know, okay- the, I have certain populations maybe who need a certain kind of communication, and then you- you do have in public health we have to have probably more persuasive communication than any other field of nursing because we have to advocate for our populations, we have to advocate for the programs that we’re serving, which a lot of times, you know, we’re not the ones necessarily who are running the programs, we’re delivering the services of the programs, but there might be program managers who are, you know, handling the grants or, you know, whatever and then, on top of all that, we have to advocate for jobs and for our existence because who even knows what public health nurses do, right? A lot of times people don’t know what we do, and so we have to really learn to speak in a way that, first of all, is clear, that people understand, and we have to learn to make connections between what’s important to them and what we’re doing. And so that’s a very important component of being persuasive, is- is really learning how to translate and make those- make those connections, seeing the patterns between, okay I know what this legislature or this coalition is, you know, their focus is on X Y & Z, we’re working on these, they- you don’t understand how those align and I need to really find a way to communicate in a way that makes those connections in a very clear way for them. So, we do that all the time.
Hawley So, if you’re connecting the dots for all these different stakeholders, I’m wondering how systems thinking has helped you in- in your work to further public health?
Huse Sure. I’m really lucky that that’s just kind of personally where I live. I’m very comfortable kind of at 30,000 feet. If you put me down in the nitty gritty details, I can do it, but I kind of hate it, and so thinking at a systems level feels very natural for me, but that is not the case for everyone. It is such an important skill in public health nursing because what we do encompasses so many systems. If you are familiar with the ecological model of health, that is such a beautiful illustration of all of the different levels that we really operate on.
Hawley Yeah, the individual, the family, their communities, policy…
Huse Like all those Russian nesting dolls, so yeah that’s the individual at the core, and then you’ve got the family, and then you’ve got the community, and then you’ve got, you know, policy, you know, on the…
Hawley I like the Russian nesting doll.
Hawley It’s much easier than concentric circles.
Huse You know, you had to- and that’s, that’s a piece of persuasive…
Hawley No way, yes, thank you.
Huse Now I’ll use that if our listeners have never looked at an ecological model or they’re like, “What is she talking about?” Yeah okay that makes sense, so you get you know, those levels get bigger as you go out. We have to be able to think about how our interventions and how our policies and how our work and how the issues are kind of threaded throughout all of those different levels because, you know, we may only- we may only have the resources to intervene on one level and we need to figure out which one’s going to be most impactful or we need to convene our community partners so that we have more leverage to- to address an issue at a greater level. So, having a systems view of things is vital, and one of my absolute favorite sayings, I have to say- environmental health class was not my favorite class in my- my MPH program, but the very, very best quote ever came out of that class, and it was that everything impacts everything, which is totally true. Yeah don’t go through your environmental how-
Hawley The butterfly effect.
Huse Yes, and it’s so true of like literally everything, so if you think about something that happens on an individual level and how that’s going to now impact the family, and if a family is struggling, how is that going to impact their- their involvement in the community? And now if your community is struggling because maybe you have many families struggling with that, how is that impacting, you know, the government? How is that, you know… it’s really important to be able to kind of follow those threads through so that you can efficiently and effectively use your resources at the level that will have the most impact.
Hawley So, you know, I’m thinking about as you say that, you know, maybe there’s a butterfly effect with people listening to what you’re saying today in some of these great ideas, you know, that- that are kind of connecting to your thoughts, I’m wondering if there’s something- anything else that you’d like to share that you think would be helpful for- for public health professionals out there in the field to think about in terms of important skills or advice you might give to someone just starting out?
Huse Oh my goodness, that, you know, starting out in public health can be really tricky because, especially in public health nursing, you get a very, very short exposure to it in school, and what you’re exposed to in school doesn’t necessarily look like what public health actually looks like. And so I really encourage people to get involved and educate themselves as much as possible- ask their employers for resources so, you know, we have all of these wonderful associations out there that can, that provide resources. So the Association of Public Health Nurses, if you were a brand-new nurse who’s a brand-new public health nurse, maybe you’ve maybe been an ER nurse forever and you’re now getting into public health nursing- not as easy as it sounds to go from that individual level thinking to that now that systems level thinking, right? It can be really challenging, it can be a really tough switch get involved in a professional association where you can make connections with other people who are in the profession who can help you really develop your skills. I mean I would hope that you’re going to have some opportunities for growth within your organization and that you’re going to have some orientation and retention and development within your organization, but you don’t have to just stop there. There are many, many other opportunities professionally and outside of your just your workplace that you can grow. There’s just this wonderful supportive group of people out there who we love, like we love new nurses, you know, you hear about some fields that eat their nurses or eat their young, you know, as they have baby nurses coming out of school and public health nurses are really not like that. Typically they’re very well. We don’t get public health nurses very often, people don’t come to public health nursing as often as we’d like them to, so we’re very excited to get new blood. So, we’re- we’re usually very welcoming and encouraging for people to join our ranks, but joining a public, you know, an association like a PHN, there’s also organizations like APHA and the Association of American Public Health Association Public Health Nursing Division. You know, and they focus a lot on policy, but also have a lot of great opportunities for mentorships and things like that you know there are just a lot of great opportunities out there for people to learn and grow and I highly recommend that. And oh my goodness just jump in, don’t be afraid- don’t feel like an impostor. Don’t feel like you don’t belong there, just jump in- learn and, and enjoy it because it’s- it is an absolutely incredible field to be in. I could not be anywhere else.
Hawley So, being with you today, you know, I’m really appreciative of the ideas of openness- flexibility, you know, the things that you’ve shared in terms of your wisdom, but just how you exemplify that in your conversation. So, I think that those are great things to show that- you- you can do those things I mean your presidency, it- with APHN is a perfect example of that, so I just really thank you for this time and I’m so glad to meet you. So, thank you for joining us today with our leadership session. I hope you’ll join us again with a future session so we can gain some more insights.
Laurie Walkner Thank you for joining us today. Special thanks to our guests, Shirley Orr, executive director of the Association for Public Health Nurses, Suzanne Hawley, Roger Hileman, Melissa Richlen, Hannah Shultz, and Laurie Walkner.
Funding for this webinar is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Please see the podcast notes for an evaluation and transcript.