Public Health Realities: Small Changes Prefaces Bigger Movement

If a department can’t agree on the formatting of business cards, let’s be honest, there’s no way that department can ever move towards bigger long term goals.

Public health is hard work. It doesn’t matter where you are — the US, Canada, Europe, China, Australia. The fact of the matter is that public health was, has, and will always be hard work, because we are working with a larger spectrum — people in communities.

Now, the argument can be said that a community can range from 2 to millions of people. I won’t deny that. Yet, the fact that it’s work involving more than one individual makes work in public health no matter the subject — environmental policy, safe routes to schools, chronic disease, health education, infectious disease, and even gun violence, the fact is we are working on a community, and communities are complex.

I believe I may have encountered one of the most frustrating things about my profession. There’s a lot one can get frustrated about, trust me…I’ve hit barriers left and right, but let me just say…when petty disagreements on incredibly minor issues such as business card formatting comes up, I do ponder how a group of very public health minded people could move initiatives along in an already complex region that I work in. Work surrounding homelessness, chronic disease, built environment, smoking, unemployment, insurance coverage, etc, I mean….these are all huge topics, a lot of it requires us to engage with so many partners and community members. Yet, I went into a meeting that I already knew would be one that I would not enjoy (let’s just not go into that drama), coming of it discouraged that small issues such as business card formatting or flier formatting could bring about so much drama, that we fail to move forward on what the objective of the meeting was about in the first place — chronic disease prevention initiatives on a health education program that’s been difficult to promote to the community let alone getting garnered interest from clinics.

If you can see my face right now, you would see one of frustration. It’s honestly sad that smaller things like formatting of paper can get in the way of larger initiatives, and it’s led me to see this — small decisions and changes make larger change possible. Change doesn’t happen over night unless of course something drastic and extreme happens, but to let petty things like that get in the way of important objectives, I mean…what am I suppose to say. What am I suppose to do except feel frustrated and wish I could not be in this meeting to work on initiatives and work that I haven’t gotten to. Even when my opinion is voiced, would it matter? If I brought back the meeting, it goes back. Obviously, there’s work between team members, and there’s a need to be mature and learn to make decisions. Honestly, there’s a need to try, fail, and try again.


And then, I came across this quote –


In light of incredibly recent events — the shootings of two African men, the killing of policemen in Dallas, Zika Virus and a lack of funding, and so many more issues (we know that there’s never an ending when it comes to public health right guys?), I realized that it’s the small people that make big changes. I didn’t see the Berlin Wall come down. What I can say though, is that it was a great time.

I’ve had these moments lately — discouraged at work because of work drama and pettiness amongst colleagues. It’s incredibly painful that our own faults and that of others leads to what we now know as work drama. It is….but you know what, there is hope though.

For me, I met a Nigerian doctor who is going back to Nigeria, and he paid our team a visit, wanting to bring some materials back to his homeland, because chronic disease there is prevalent. Can I just say…how encouraged I am to see him, leave the comforts of the Bay Area, the US, to Nigeria, where he is going to help set up initiatives to promote healthier living. Then there’s social media, where I’m seeing people coming together in town hall meetings, acts of love and kindness, the realization that there’s a problem and a need to change. Did you know, that these types of things, are often times when multiplied lead to policy change? For those of you who have never read the book “Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America” by Paul Tough, I mean, you have to read it, it’s a great book. Geoffrey Canada saw Harlem for what it was, and he wanted to make a change. He failed a lot and the book outlines it well; but he also saw later on the fruits of what he was working towards. It became so successful, that others began to notice. In fact, it’s become a model.

I mean…look — we see the ugliest of humanity, but then we see the good as well, the willingness to make small changes in hopes for better futures. I didn’t get into public health to talk and negotiate with partners on deals like those in the finance and business arena (no offense to all you finance folks out there..we need you…I was an econ minor in college, so…I’m not putting you guys down or anything). I wanted to make a difference because of the disparities that I experienced growing up and saw with my own two eyes when I worked in a nonprofit clinic in some of the most difficult parts of Sacramento. It’s why I’m taking a risk, to go back to school to become a provider, so that I can help impact those around me.

There are many Berlin walls in our time and era. It doesn’t take much to notice that. If you don’t believe me, just go outside, walk to a grocery store, go to a town meeting, go even to the lobby of a hospital, and you will know…there are a lot of issues. However, issues can’t be solved over night. Such complex things require small changes. Sure, some will fail. We’re not robots; we can’t predict what will work or not. Yet, I’d rather take risks on initiatives, fail fast and sometimes hard, get up, and try something that may work.

However, if business cards are getting in the way of important matters, can I just say, why did I enter the profession in the first place?


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