Winifred M. Holland, MPH, MA, LMHC, Health Officer, Florida Department of Health in Clay County, has spent more than 30 years in public health. In this interview, Holland discusses her career path, the challenges of maintaining the fiscal viability of her LHD, and the rewards of working on teen pregnancy prevention programs.
- Please tell us about your professional background and how you got to where you are today.
I have been a public health professional for over 30 years. My initial degree is in secondary education but once I was exposed to public health, it became my passion.
My early years in public health were focused on epidemiology-related issues such as STIs, tuberculosis, and immunizations. Disease control was a fascinating area for me in public health and I enjoyed the work and “puzzle-like” activities involved. My next area of focus in public health was with the establishment of primary care services in local health departments, teen pregnancy prevention, tobacco control, and outreach to under-served populations. As a result of my work in teen pregnancy prevention, I returned to graduate school to get a master’s in mental health counseling.
For the majority of my public health career, I worked in small rural counties and found the work very fulfilling and challenging. When an opportunity arose to apply for a position as a health officer in two small rural health departments in north Florida, I was excited to extend my reach and was successful in attaining this position. For seven and a half years, I worked in two small county health departments and was challenged every day and loved the work and the staff.
My current position is with a medium-sized health department and the challenges and excitement of being able to make a difference at the community-level continues to motivate me daily. I have to say that I am in my current position because of the many public health professionals who helped me along the way in my development—supervisors, mentors, fellow public health professionals. My involvement with NACCHO has further enhanced my skills and level of self-confidence.
- What does your typical day entail?
A typical day in the life of a health officer…I would say nothing is typical. Each day brings a new challenge and opportunity to touch the lives of others. One of the best features of public health is that you never know what may occur on a daily basis—an outbreak, a community event, or opportunity to share the public health message with the media or general public. These days, checking e-mails is almost a seven-days-a-week adventure to keep up with what is happening but I also spend time meeting with community partners either directly or by telephone, participating in conference calls, reviewing and completing reports, and answering inquiries from staff and clients. Maintaining the fiscal viability of the agency is an important aspect that must be dealt with almost daily. The great thing about public health is that it is multi-faceted.
- What is one of your proudest professional accomplishments?
During my tenure as a program manager and again as a health officer, I was successful at obtaining grant dollars to provide services within the communities I served. This was a very big challenge but I am proud to know that my efforts helped ensure that access to care will continue to be provided long after my departure from that position. To ensure that the communities we serve receive services is a very positive aspect of public health. Of course, I am proud of the young people that I worked with during my seven years in teen pregnancy prevention programs and the successes that they have accomplished.
- What public health challenges keep you awake at night?
Balancing the fiscal and programmatic functions in a local health department provides some interesting challenges. As a local public health professional, the opportunity to work with other community partners and engage them in our mission of a healthy community is exciting and challenging and I often am concerned that I am not doing enough to spread our message. A long-term concern is not accomplishing all that I would like to achieve—this is both a good and a challenging aspect of public health—there is always lots to do and many opportunities to make a difference.
- What advice would you give someone just starting their career in public health?
Remain flexible, stay focused on your goals, take advantage of organizations like NACCHO and your fellow public health professionals, continue to learn and grow, accept the challenges that are presented, and recognize that you can accomplish great things with the help of others in your community and within your profession.