Member Spotlight: Director and Health Officer Dawn C. Allicock Discusses Innovative Management Models and Addresses the Public Health Effects of Zika and Hurricane Matthew

Interview by Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This interview features Dawn C. Allicock, MD, MPH, CPH, Director and Health Officer with the Florida Department of Health in St. Johns County. She is a member of NACCHO’s Board of Directors.  Below she shares her background in public health and highlights a few of her greatest accomplishments in the field.

Tell us about your career path in public health.

I have been the Director and Health Officer with the Florida Department of Health in St. Johns County (DOH – St. Johns) since 2004. I have a varied and diverse medical education and public health background that forms my focused vision for public health.

I received a BA from Dartmouth College, an MD from the Eugenio Maria de Hostos University School of Medicine in the Dominican Republic, and an MPH from the University of South Florida, College of Public Health Practice Executive Program. In 2008, as a member of the Charter Class for Voluntary National Certification in Public Health, I became one of the first in the nation to become certified in public health. I completed my pediatric residency training at the University of Missouri, Columbia and I am licensed to practice medicine in Florida, Texas, and Nebraska. I am board certified in urgent care medicine and board eligible in pediatrics.

After working as a private practitioner in Texas, I answered a calling to work in public health. Prior to my current role, my public health positions have included medical director of a not-for-profit pediatric clinic funded by the Texas Healthcare Network; pediatrician for the DOH in both St. Lucie and Okeechobee Counties; and Medical Director/Senior Physician and Laboratory Director of DOH – St. Lucie County.

What are some of the highlights of your career in public health? What makes the work that you do worthwhile?

I proactively implemented the Baldrige/Sterling Management Model at DOH – St. Johns, resulting in evidenced-based results, increased accountability, efficiency, and improved public health outcomes. I led my agency to achieve recognition in the Florida Governor’s Sterling Award for Performance Excellence in 2009 and 2015 and the Florida Governor’s Sterling Sustained Performance Excellence Award in 2011 and 2017.

In the past few years, DOH – St. Johns has been recognized on the national stage for its role-model status as an outstanding public health agency. I have been privileged to share our performance excellence journey as a keynote speaker at both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin, TX. In 2012, I participated on a panel and presented an abstract at the annual American Public Health Association Conference. Additionally, DOH –St. Johns has been recognized by NACCHO as a Project Public Health Ready-certified health department in 2010 and again in 2015. Our St. Johns County Health Leadership Council has been recognized in a University of Kentucky study as one of 12 high-performing public health partnerships in the United States. I am excited to be part of the integrated Florida Department of Health, the first centralized state health department to achieve Voluntary National Public Health Accreditation. And, finally, it would be remiss of me not to share how proud I am to lead the local health department as the healthiest county in Florida for the sixth consecutive year, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.

What challenges are you or your health department currently facing?

St. Johns County is ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as the 16th fastest growing county in the nation. The population has nearly doubled since the year 2000. There has also been a continuous flow of emerging public health issues like Ebola and Zika virus and problems created by natural disasters including Hurricane Matthew, which affected our county more than any other in Florida. Each day, I have to prioritize our resources and human capital to best meet each imminent and emerging public health need for my community. At the same time, I must never lose sight of what the greatest health threats are now and in the future and who is and will be most at risk. Additionally, I must keep in mind what it will take to mitigate these threats and reach the greatest number of high-risk populations with whatever resources are available. These are the ultimate challenges of public health.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in public health since you’ve started in this field?

The biggest change I have seen in public health is the recognition of public health as a profession. Not only do we see the increase in Master of Public Health degrees, we have seen universities begin to offer undergraduate degrees in public health as well. As a member of the first cohort of recipients to be certified in public health (CPH) in 2008, it was with joy that we hired an individual for an Environmental Specialist position who had not just an MPH but also a CPH. Additionally, we now have voluntary national public health accreditation for state and local health departments. Accreditation raises the level of our profession and ensures that we have a set of standards that all public health departments must meet and to which health departments are held accountable.

How are you positioning yourself and/or your health department for the future?

In keeping with the national and state direction of public health, DOH – St. Johns continues to align its health department services to the 12 Public Health Domains of Public Health. Additionally, DOH – St. Johns recognizes that as a high-performing government health department, we must also codify our role as the Chief Health Strategist for our community and align our core functions to support this role of the Local Chief Health Strategist. We have developed a three-year strategic plan using a balanced scorecard approach with four strategic priorities: health protection and promotion; financial and business excellence; service to customers and community; and workforce development. To ensure optimal success, we will continue on the journey of performance excellence by using our embedded Sterling/Baldrige Management Model.

How long have you been a member of NACCHO and what value do you find in belonging?

I have been a member of NACCHO since being appointed as Health Officer in 2004. NACCHO has been valuable in offering support and resources to me in my role as Director and Health Officer, leader and convener of the local public health system, and now as the head of an agency tasked with being the local Chief Health Strategist for my community. My agency uses NACCHO’s various tools and trainings like Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, accreditation, quality improvement training and tools, and information on health equity on a daily basis. Additionally, the benefits of NACCHO experienced through attendance at various events, established relationships with other health officers, and the availability of information on best, good, and promising practices being implemented nationwide by various NACCHO members cannot be overstated.

What do you enjoy doing in your time away from work?

I really enjoy spending quality time with my family. While an accomplished pianist in my teens, I now enjoy listening to my brother, the maestro, making the piano talk! I also enjoy mentoring and partnering with my niece who is following in my footsteps. Currently, she is completing a doctorate in public health. Lastly, I love travelling with my husband and reading.

For more interviews in the series, visit NACCHO Voice Member Spotlight.