The Public Health Journey

By Dr. Lynne Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health

Recently, a high school student asked to shadow me for a day. You might think that I do this all the time, but I don’t. I have precepted graduate students and preventive medicine residents, but never a high school student. I had to really search my calendar for a day that would be an appropriate learning experience for a young person who was exploring a career in public health.

Lynne Saddler

I was amazed that she already knew she wanted a career in public health. Most of us take meandering paths into the field of public health. We don’t grow up with visions of inspecting restaurants, diagnosing syphilis or helping people quit smoking. We often stumble on public health when we meet a public health practitioner at a Career Day or somehow are exposed to the amazing things that public health does.

So, I picked a day at Northern Kentucky University. We attended a meeting of state senators and representatives of the Health and Welfare Committees. I introduced her to several elected officials and shared how public health educates and advocates for policies that promote health. We also attended the dedication of the new Health Innovation Center, where the governor and many other dignitaries spoke. We ended the day by touring the center’s health care simulation centers. I introduced her to many of the community partners we work with to improve the health and well-being of Northern Kentucky.

Interestingly, many of the questions she asked revolved around how I got to be director and what it was like to be in this role. It really made me reflect on my career. I recalled asking the same questions of a health department director who was my preceptor 30 years ago.  So, what started out as a day to help a high school student learn more about public health became a learning experience for me as well.

My point in sharing this story is three-fold — (1) If you get asked to work with a student as part of our Public Health Institute, please say yes. You will get a lot from the experience too. (2) Get to know your co-workers by asking them how they came to work in public health. (3) During this time of thanksgiving, remember to be grateful for the people in your life who have helped you along the way. Even if they are a high school student with whom you spent a day.

Happy Thanksgiving!