Professor and Chair of the CDC Foundation’s Board of Directors, Dr. Leah Devlin Shares the Biggest Risk She’s Taken as a Leader and the Greatest Reward

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, currently serves as a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Health Policy and Management at The Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was recently appointed to Chair of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation Board of Directors. Dr. Devlin has been a board member since 2012 and boasts over 30 years of experience in public health.

Dr. Devlin served as state health director in North Carolina from 2001 to 2009 and previously held positions as deputy state health director and health director for Wake County, NC. Additionally, Dr. Devlin has provided consultant services to RTI International, the Milbank Fund, and the Aspen Institute.

Dr. Devlin’s presidential leadership spans across three public health organizations—the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors, North Carolina Public Health Association, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Below, Dr. Delvin shares the biggest risk she’s taken as a public health leader and discusses how her previous leadership experience will inform her role as Chair of the CDC Foundation’s Board of Directors.

How has your previous experience in the public health field influenced your teaching style as a professor at The Gillings School of Global Public Health?

The amazing students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health are intensely interested in how public health really works in the field. Team-based approaches, coalition building, health communications, policy development, and the science of public health practice are all exciting to them.  They want to know about how we handle equity issues, ethics, the allocation of limited resources, and how to handle “hot topics.” Students want to explore various career paths as they continue to develop their academic skills.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in a leadership position, and what was the outcome?

Probably, the biggest risk I’ve taken in my career was when our small leadership team at the Wake County Health Department in North Carolina, located in one of the largest tobacco-producing states in the country, banned smoking in the health department with a simple memo to staff. It was 1986 and it was the first public action I officially took as the newly appointed, 31-year-old, local health director. We were the first local health department in NC to take such an unheard-of action. This decision made the front page of the newspaper the next day as it was quite controversial to say the least. My entire career as a local health director could have been derailed right at the start. I was fortunate to have continued support from health and elected leaders, and our local health department went on to be a leader in community tobacco control policy in our state.

What would you say is the most rewarding and frustrating thing about being a leader in the public health profession?

In thinking about the most rewarding aspects of being in public health leadership roles, successful capacity and policy development at the state level must be at the top. The work that we did in public health emergency response after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks that began that following month in October was transformative for NC public health and our partners. These efforts laid the foundations for addressing SARS, monkey pox, West Nile Virus, and pan flu all the way through to more recent efforts in Ebola and Zika. We also built on the lessons learned from responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past 20 years.

One frustrating aspect for all of us in public health is having the science on a critical public health issue and the coalitions in place to move the needle but not being able to gain traction with appointed and elected officials as a priority to secure funding for programs or health policy that will have impact. It is difficult to overcome being the “quiet miracle”—prevention isn’t visible and oftentimes when we do our best work, nothing happens.

How will your previous experience as a president of three active public health organizations and a former state health director inform your leadership as Chair of the CDC Foundation’s Board of Directors?

Three aspects of my career directly relate to work of the CDC Foundation. First, the CDC Foundation was established by Congress 25 years ago to create public/private partnerships to advance the critical work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both locally and globally. I have spent my entire career building strategic and vitally important partnerships.

Secondly, having been in leadership roles at these three organizations and having served on other boards, I can fully appreciate the importance of having a strong board and strong CEO to lead the board.  We clearly have those assets at the CDC Foundation. In addition, the incredible leadership opportunities I had at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials gave me a greater experience in working with other states, with Congress, and federal agencies.

Third, the mission of the CDC Foundation is clearly aligned with the missions of public health in state and local health departments and at UNC where I have spent my career. The Foundation engages in a broad range of issues such as maternal and child health, tobacco, infectious disease, and opioids, as well as participates in global health security and improving data systems for the nation. I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity to participate in the work of the CDC Foundation. I invite you all to join with the Foundation in supporting the incredible efforts of our flagship public health institution—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


To share your story of transformational leadership or to recommend a leader to be highlighted, please contact Taylarr Lopez, NACCHO Communications Specialist, at    

NACCHO Advocates for Seasonal and Pandemic Flu Preparedness

By Eli Briggs, Senior Director of Government Affairs

On November 14, NACCHO and a coalition of public health and healthcare partners met with staff from the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in preparation for a hearing on Flu Preparedness and Response.

NACCHO government affairs staff highlighted the role of local health departments in monitoring, preventing, and controlling disease to reduce the health risks and financial burden of seasonal flu. We know that most local health departments provide direct immunization services (adult: 90% and childhood: 88%, according to NACCHO’s National Profile of Local Health Departments) and promote the importance of annual flu vaccination through education and policy. Continue reading

NACCHO Book Club — How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS

By Emily Yox, MPH, Global Health Program Analyst, NACCHO

Each month, we will bring you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. We hope to provide a well-rounded reading list that you will find enjoyable as well as informative.

December is National AIDS Awareness month. To allow for discussion during that time, our book recommendation for November is a long but engaging read by David France titled “How to Survive a Plague. The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS.” It was published in 2016 after the success of David Frank’s documentary by the same name. Continue reading

How to Combat Childhood Obesity: A Detailed Guide for Parents, Children and Health Practitioners

By Bradley University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing program. This story was originally posted on Bradly University’s website.

In the early 1970s, approximately 6.1 percent of children ages 12-19 in the United States were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By 2011-2012, that figure had more than tripled to 20.5 percent.

This is problematic, considering that not only has the number of children with obesity risen in the country, but more kids are at risk of facing bullying, lower self-esteem and chronic health problems because of their condition. Additionally, children with obesity are more likely to continue to be obese as adults, the CDC reports, making them more susceptible to serious health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer. Continue reading

Transformational Leader Dr. Rex Archer Shares Important Decisions He’s Made as Director of KCMO and Errors He’s Witnessed from Other Leaders

By George T. Roberts, Jr., MHA, FACHE, NACCHO President and Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District

Rex D. Archer, MD, MPH serves as the Director of Health for the City of Kansas City (KCHD), MO, and is also a past president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). In 2017, KCHD was awarded the Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award for Excellence in Food Protection for demonstrating unsurpassed achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to their community. Under Dr. Archer’s leadership, in 2018, KCHD earned NACCHO’s Local Health Department of the Year Award.  In the same year, Dr. Archer was awarded the Maurice “Mo” Mullet Lifetime of Service Award. KCHD has won several Model Practices Awards, showcasing their exemplary and replicable local public health programs. With the direction of Dr. Archer, KCHD became an accredited health department by the Public Health Accreditation Board and has been one of the first 13 LHD’s to be reaccredited. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Cities with One Common Goal: To Improve Breastfeeding Support for Low Income Mothers in Marion County, IN

By Julie Patterson, PhD, MBA, RDN, LDN, Northern Illinois University; Lindsay Moore-Otsby, MD, HealthNet; Carrie Bonsack, DNP, CNM, HealthNet, and Kay Johnson, HealthNet 

Our story begins with an internal champion, a physician whose personal struggles with breastfeeding inspired the creation of a breastfeeding clinic at HealthNet. She engaged internal and external stakeholders to develop a breastfeeding model of care in collaboration with Northern Illinois University. This model aims to improve breastfeeding support and outcomes at HealthNet, and ultimately could serve as a model for other clinics to improve breastfeeding disparities. This project has succeeded in many ways, particularly in highlighting the need for multipronged, multidisciplinary breastfeeding support efforts not only within the clinic system itself, but also in collaboration with local support services. Continue reading

Increasing Breastfeeding Support at Erie Family Health Centers

By Misty Romero, BA, RN, IBCLC and Hrishikesh T. Shetty, Institutional Giving Manager, Erie Family Health Centers 

Through NACCHO’s Building a Breastfeeding Support Model for Community Health Centers’ eight-month project, Erie Family Health Centers, a community health center network comprising 13 sites, was able to standardize and improve breastfeeding support throughout the organization and make services more accessible to patients. To reflect Erie’s mission and evidence-based medical practice, we updated our organization-wide breastfeeding and employee pumping policies and procedures to align with state and federal standards. We reconvened our internal workgroup; The Erie Breastfeeding Committee (EBC) and increased Erie’s organizational capacity by training our lactation specialists as trainers, who then trained more staff. Finally, we improved our clinic environment to be supportive of breastfeeding. Continue reading