From public health executives to public health leaders

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In June, the USF College of Public Health’s (COPH) newly revived Public Health Executive Leadership Program graduated its first cohort of students in 10 years.

“In those 10 years, it was my understanding that there was a paucity of leadership training and formal programming for Florida Department of Health professionals,” explained Dr. Marissa Levine, a COPH practice pathway professor and one of the faculty organizers of the program. “We resurrected the program not to teach public health skills, but to bring out leadership skills.”

The program, designed for rising stars in the Florida Department of Health, brought public health executives across the state to the USF campus. Twenty-eight bureau chiefs, doctors, program administrators, lab executives, nurses and even IT professionals graduated the nine-month course that required five in-person, on-campus sessions with online work and discussion in-between.

At the end of the nine months, participants presented their capstone projects, which covered things like decreasing turnover by increasing morale and succession planning.

“The response from our participants has been excellent,” said Levine. “These are busy professionals who are working on this program in addition to their usual responsibilities and activities. And judging from the quality of their capstone projects, I think the program’s been important to them.”

Lylah Seaton, the chemical threat program administrator at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories in Jacksonville, said she was drawn to the program because, as a newly appointed supervisor, she was interested in learning how things operated around the state.

“The Bureau of Public Health Labs, where I work, is different from how the county health departments work. What I really liked about the program was sharing information and perspective with the other participants and learning how things operate in their areas.”

Marissa Levine, MD, MPH, far left, and Anthony Masys, PhD, far right, flank some of the Public Health Executive Leadership Program graduates in the atrium of the COPH. (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

While they learned from each other, participants also learned from a variety of expert speakers, including some from the CDC. Key topics covered were conflict resolution, effective communication, engaging employees and responding to the media.

“I think the most important thing I took away from the program was how to be a more open and approachable leader,” said Seaton. “If your staff knows that about you, it goes a long way.”

While this was a pilot program, Levine says its contract has been renewed by the Florida Department of Health. It will be back for a second year with just a few minor tweaks, such as starting midday instead of early morning to accommodate the travel schedules of people coming from all parts of the state.

“The basic tenets of the program are set and have been well received,” said Levine. “We’ll just be making logistical changes to make it easier for public health officials who lead very hectic lives to take part in the program and still have time to take care of their job duties and personal responsibilities.”

The next Public Health Executive Leadership cohort will be welcomed in September.

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health