My public health career began in December 2014. This was my first grown-up job after completing graduate school and I was excited to start; as all new graduates do, I possessed the blazing positivity that I could change the world by working in public health.
In these two years, much has changed, including a promotion. Around the time I was promoted to a manager position, I was asked by my fellowship mentor as our time came to a close, “What can others in the field do to help persons early in their careers?”
Although they may not know or realize it, new graduates need the guidance that public health veterans can provide; the knowledge, expertise, anecdotes, and charisma to navigate the world of public health surveillance that we have gained from our own years of experience in the field.
Upon examination, there are a few ways that I ask you to take the time to say “yes” and engage new public health employees:
1. Talk to us.
Set aside time every week or month to just talk. In the two years I have worked in public health, one of my most valued experiences has been learning from mentors in public health. These individuals take the time out of their schedules to put down their phones, look away from their computer screens and look me in the eyes. Actively being involved in the conversation at hand has taught me to also do the same when speaking with others and provide me with confidence to share my ideas and problems.
2. Don't step on our dream.
One of the best things (and sometimes most irritating to seasoned colleagues) about beginners in the public health world is they want to do good regardless of whether it has been tried before. When a person early in their career hits a challenge, they look for ways to change the challenge into a success. As someone who has been at an agency for a while, it is often difficult to not counter optimism and initiative with pessimism masquerading as realism. New employees have not been worn down and smoothed around the edges. Allow these individuals to maintain some of those sharp edges because sometimes - when hit against an opportunity – it sparks a fire for positive change.
3. Pay attention when we ask “Why?”
New public health employees provide the perfect opportunity for agencies to evaluate if the jobs being done are effective and to identify gaps in services provided. Often agencies do things because they "have always been done that way," but examining challenges with a new pair of eyes can create disruptive change for good. Define the end goal, not the step-by-step instructions. Allowing for new insight provides not only accountability and responsibility that may otherwise be avoided, but invests in the projects.
4. Be a Conduit.
Remember, we have yet to meet our future colleagues and collaborators in public health. Invite new employees to meetings with internal and external partners. This provides the opportunity to learn from people that come from different backgrounds, learn about emerging topics of interest and give other resources to reach out to.
While I may not be able to change the world through public health, I can try to make simple changes every day to help those starting their public health careers by engaging them and encouraging their dreams. Please consider, as public health veterans, making the same contribution to the future leaders of public health. After all, many of us went into public health to help others – why not start with those who chose the same passion?
Ann Kayser, MPH
Ann Kayser is a guest blog contributor. She is a Surveillance Epidemiologist for the Indiana State Department of Health.