Figuring out what you like and don’t like: how being a personal trainer kickstarted a public health career, with Jeff Button

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Jeff Button, a public health emergency preparedness specialist. They discuss Jeff’s career journey from working as a personal trainer to working in public health, what inspired him to pursue public health, and what public health emergency preparedness encompasses. 

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Jeff’s experience as a personal health trainer and what led him to the public health field
    • What made Jeff choose to pursue public health over physical therapy
  • How to find what your passion is and signs/indicators that you may not be working in the right field
    • How work experiences can inspire you and better help you understand your field of interests
  • Advice on how to start making connections in a new professional field
  • The importance of making connections and how they can open doors in your career
  • What public health emergency preparedness is
  • What a day in the life of a Public Health Emergency Preparedness Planner looks like
    • Jeff’s current work in addressing health disparities that have been exacerbated by COVID and his experience working in a newly established team
    • How intraprofessional and interprofessional collaboration come in to play in public health

Today’s Guest:

Jeff Button is an early-career public health professional who discovered his passion for health promotion and disease prevention during his time working in the fitness and healthcare industries. Upon graduating with his Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in December 2019 from the UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas, Jeff was determined to find a job in the public health field that focused on improving population health and well-being. Currently, he is employed with a local health department within Collin County, Texas, where he was selected to serve as the first Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Planner for a state-funded COVID-19 Health Disparities Grant. In Jeff’s current role, he provides leadership on a team that analyzes the root causes of pandemic-driven health disparities and builds multi-sector partnerships with community stakeholders to improve the health of vulnerable populations. Jeff is passionate about reducing health disparities and addressing social determinants of health that affect health outcomes among high-risk and underserved communities. Jeff is a proud member of the American Public Health Association (APHA) who enjoys networking with other like-minded public health professionals and sharing his unique journey in the field of public health.

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Episode Transcript

Jeff 0:00
It’s never too late. It’s never too late for growth. It’s never too late to advance in your career. And it’s never too late to pursue your dreams, pursue your passions. I feel like I’m living evidence of that.

Sujani 0:14
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:30
Good morning, Jeff. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So wonderful to finally get to speak with you. We chatted a little bit on LinkedIn. And I’m just excited today to get to learn about the journey that you’ve taken so far, to doing what you’re doing right now. And I think it was public health emergency preparedness, but I think, you know, we’ll kind of get to that role in a little bit. But before that, just saying thank you for being here. And for yeah, wanting to share your story with our listeners.

Jeff 0:59
Sure. Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Sujani 1:00
You know, the question that I love asking my guests, and I’m sure my listeners by now know exactly the question I’m going to ask, it’s how each of my guests have discovered the field of public health and that decision point where they’re like, Okay, I think I want to build a career in this area. A lot of people I’ve spoken to the discovery of public health has been kind of accidental. And so I’m curious to hear what your discovery has been of the field of public health, knowing that you kind of started off your undergraduate degree in health, kinesiology and Political Science, those were your concentrations. Was the idea of wanting to establish a career in public health as early as undergraduate studies, or was that even much earlier? Or was that something you discovered later on?

Jeff 1:51
It was actually much later. So I graduated in the spring of 2013. From the University of Texas at San Antonio. And most of my way through college, I was a kinesiology major, as you mentioned, and then my very last year of college, I switched to a broader degree Multidisciplinary Studies, and my concentrations were in Kinesiology, Health and political science. And at the time, I definitely did not think about pursuing a career in public health. And my initial thought was, I wanted to do something in fitness. So I ended up becoming a personal trainer right after college. And I also had thoughts of becoming a strength and conditioning coach, because I was a competitive powerlifter in college, and sports and athletics were always part of my life growing up, and that was always my passion. My first real job out of college, I was a personal trainer at a large commercial gym. Through that experience, I did that for about eight months, I learned about things I liked about that job and things I did not like about the job. And I quickly realized I didn’t like the sales aspect of it. I felt pressured a lot of times to hit quotas every month. And a lot of the trainers that I worked with, we were all competing each other and trying to hit sales numbers, sales goals, and I realized I did like helping clients meet their personal physical fitness or health and wellness goals. And that may have planted the seeds early on for my interest in public health. But I still didn’t know at the time that was what I wanted to do. When I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I talked to another trainer who said he was pursuing physical therapy. And that sparked my interest because I thought that was relevant to my concentration and kinesiology. So I looked into some physical therapy school programs and saw they had pre stringent requirements as far as grade point average and letters of recommendation and experience working in the field, at least getting some volunteer hours alongside physical therapists and occupational therapists. So I ended up getting a job at a rehab hospital, the trainer who I met that told me that physical therapy helped me get this job at a rehab hospital. And that was my initial foot in the door into the healthcare world. And I started to realize I did enjoy that experience moreso than personal training, it seemed for me more fulfilling, I was able to directly work with patients. And I got some good experience doing that for a couple of years. I started actually going back and taking some classes to try to boost my GPA. And then eventually my plan was to apply for physical therapy school. But after a couple years, I started to rethink things again, the story I always tell people how I got the idea of pursuing a graduate degree in public health was I interviewed for a job at one point at a dialysis clinic. I remember in the interview, the guy who was interviewing me he was one of the heads of the clinic. Like, he said something that switched a light bulb on in my head. And he said it in a half joking manner. But he said, you know, if we didn’t have patients who had chronic kidney disease, we would be out of business. That made me think about what I really wanted to do long term after that interview. And I ended up getting the job. And I worked at this dialysis clinic for a couple of years. But I remember after that initial interview, I started to think do I really want to pursue physical therapy and work in healthcare or what I rather do something that focuses more on health promotion and disease prevention. I remember having a phone conversation with my dad about that. And then I just started to kind of talk out loud about the field of public health. And then I just started doing research on graduate school programs and public health. And so I found a good one in my area, the UT Health School of Public Health, and they have branches all over Texas. And so I went to an open house at the Dallas campus branch. And it just seemed like a really interesting field. I liked how broad it was, and there were so many different avenues you could take. So it just seemed right. So I applied for the program and got accepted. And I started my master’s of public health program in January of 2017, and then graduated in December of 2019. But I think that’s a pretty good summary of how I eventually ended up in the public health field.

Sujani 6:24
Yeah, it sounds like you know, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to it’s kind of a similar path where you have this general area of interest. And for you, I guess, because you were interested in like fitness and sports, and I’m assuming before college, you, I guess automatically kind of decided to go into the BA program and concentrating in kinesiology, right. And then, you know, step by step, you’re kind of discovering not only programs, but uncovering things about yourself. And there are, I think, certain events in your life that guide you to discover that passion. And I’m curious, you know, as you had that conversation with your dad, between, do I want to do health care? Or do I want to do health promotion and disease prevention? What are some of the things that you discussed? Or were considering? And did you even kind of think about do I want to go back to rehab? Do I want to kind of go back to fitness? Like were those also part of the I guess, discussion points?

Jeff 7:29
That’s a good question. I don’t think I really had any thoughts about going back to the physical therapy path. I felt like at that point, I had been working at a rehab hospital and also a long term acute care hospital and their rehab departments. So I had been getting experience working in those inpatient rehab settings for a couple of years. But yeah, I felt like over time, I started to realize it wasn’t really my passion, I didn’t feel super fulfilled in that field. So I already had an idea that wasn’t really right for me. And by that time, I was already interviewing for a new job at this dialysis clinic. So I just felt like I was ready for something new, something different. And I didn’t think about fitness either. I think I was still a little bit soured by my experience as a trainer just because of, like I said, before, I didn’t like the sales aspect of it. I just didn’t feel super genuine in that type of role. But like I said, I did like helping people meet their health and wellness or physical fitness goals. So I think maybe I did think about that, at least. And I realized that that’s what made me fulfill. That’s what I was passionate about. And I wanted to do something like that, but where there wasn’t skills involved, and something yeah, that I could feel more genuine about. So I think just yeah, all those experiences kind of put together helped me realize that public health was probably more closely aligned with what I wanted to do long term versus what I was doing before.

Sujani 8:59
I’m curious, you know, when you talk about not feeling fulfilled, and some of the roles that you had, do you recognize any sort of indications? I don’t know if it’s like body reactions to certain activities happening at work, you know, for me, at least if I don’t feel fulfilled by a certain activity or a role. I know, I get like kind of deflated, I don’t- I’m not motivated to do work, constantly just ignoring certain tasks that are in front of me. curious to hear if you have any indicators that were signaling to you that you are not feeling fulfilled, and maybe this is not the area that you want to spend the rest of your career in.

Jeff 9:39
Yeah, that’s another good question. I would say when I was working at the long term acute care hospital in the rehab department there, that was my full time job, and then I was working PRN at the rehab hospital. So at this long term, acute care hospital, I didn’t notice that it was affecting my mood a little bit because in that type of setting there are a lot of chronically ill or terminally ill patients. And I started to realize that it just sort of affected my mood, you know, I felt sort of sad or a little bit down, being in that environment for an extended period of time, because you do work with patients who, you know, may not get better, and some even die. I think that was just getting to me a little bit. And I think it also triggers some feelings of anxiety. And I just realized it wasn’t my happy place. And I will say, as much as I didn’t love my personal training job, it was still a fun environment to be in, you know, in a big gym-

Sujani 10:44

Jeff 10:44

  • atmosphere. And as I said before, I mean, that was always my passion growing up was working out being in the gym playing sports. So I think I realized maybe after that, working in a long term acute care hospital that I wanted to be in an environment where I just felt more uplifted. And yeah, I just didn’t want to have those feelings of feeling down and depressed in that environment.

Sujani 11:09
Yeah, it’s almost like that itch, to want to do more than what your current role outlines for you, right? Like, you’re seeing all these chronically ill patients, and you’re asking yourself, like, what got them here? What can I do more than what I’ve been hired to do? And I think that it’s also perhaps is an indication of maybe looking into something else or exploring a different path.

Jeff 11:33
Yes, that’s a really good point. I think that was something I thought about too, is, you know, how can I help people live healthier lives and not have to utilize the healthcare system as much or end up in a long term acute care hospital? Yeah, that is a good point. I did think about that. You know, I feel like I would feel more fulfilled, helping people not end up in the situation in the first place.

Sujani 11:57
Yeah. It’s interesting, because you know, when you were a personal trainer, at the end of the day, you were focused on health promotion and disease prevention, but it was the environment that you were working in, that you weren’t happy with. And then you kind of stepped into, quote, unquote, the public health world, you know, including healthcare, and I’m going to box healthcare in there as well. The type of job that you were doing wasn’t fulfilling, but you knew that that that was kind of the right environment in the public sector where you’re trying to help the larger population.

Jeff 12:27
Yes, another thing too, regarding the personal training position, I remember one thing I had thought about when I was helping these clients meet their personal fitness goals, whether it was elderly clients who were wanting to improve their balance or wanting to prove their flexibility, or if it was overweight clients who had high blood pressure, type two diabetes, had joint replacement surgery, I started to realize it felt like he really big responsibility, and I almost felt a little underqualified at times, because I was fresh out of college. And I guess I didn’t realize how big of a responsibility being a trainer was. And that was actually something that motivated me to want to go back to school and get an advanced degree. And at the time, I wasn’t totally sure what an advanced degree would look like. For myself, I didn’t think about a master’s in public health. I didn’t even think about an advanced degree in kinesiology. But probably the first type of advanced degree I had thought about was the physical therapy school, which is a doctorate program that DrPH that was what I had thought about initially. But yeah, I would say that experience as a personal trainer was what originally inspired me to want to advance my education so that I can be better able to help people with those types of chronic health issues,

Sujani 13:49
I find that when you’re kind of at a crossroads, either personally, or for your professional career life, people around you are the ones who kind of helped you discover kind of a new path or guide you on the next steps. And during your fitness trainer and kind of role there was that other trainer who sort of shine some light on the path of rehab. And then when you were working in the dialysis treatment center, you kind of discovered public health and curious to hear if you had reached out to anybody kind of within your professional network, or if it was solely that conversation that you had with your father, which ignited this like new path for you to do more research in?

Jeff 14:37
Yeah, so I remember pretty soon after I had that realization that I wanted to look at some programs in public health and I had that conversation with my dad. Pretty quickly. I did want to try to find ways to connect with people in the public health field. My first connection happened through one of my dad’s best friends who’s he happens to be my godfather. And I remember he worked at the sheriff’s office. In Collin County, where I work right now, and he introduced me to I think, at the time, she was their Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the county. So she had a master’s in public health. And so I remember my godfather introduced me to her. And she told me early on about what she did and her role, and some of the other avenues and public health I could potentially take. And then one thing she had suggested was to look into this volunteer group called the Medical Reserve Corps. It’s a national volunteer group. It consists of local units all over the country. It’s under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, which is underneath I think the Department of Health and Human Services is a nationally based volunteer program that consists of both medical and non medical professionals. But she said that would be a good way to get my foot in the door in the public health field, and be able to network with people. So pretty quickly, I applied to become part of this volunteer group. It’s mostly emergency preparedness based, so they do drills trainings in emergency preparedness. I remember going to one drill a few years ago, there was a local high school gymnasium, and they were doing a point of dispensing site drill. So in the event of a like a public health emergency, and medication needs to be quickly dispensed, the Medical Reserve Corps potentially would be called upon to help run a they call it a pod site for the general public to dispense prophylactic medication or medication that helps prevent illness. And so I attended one of these drills, and I was able to meet some people through the volunteer group. And I remember I had a really good conversation with the person who was overseeing the drill. And he worked for a Regional Health Department. He was actually part of the regional office for the Texas Department of State Health Services. And he was about the same age as me. I remember he asked me, were you a power lifter? I was like, yeah, how does he know he’s like, well, I can just tell I know, powerlifters when I’ve seen him, and he said that he used to power lift, too. So I was like, Oh, that’s cool. And we just kind of bonded over that. And then he told me, he had his master’s in public health. He provided me a lot of insight into his journey in the public health field, and then gave me insight on potential opportunities I could look at, but I remember he was really big on the emergency management field, he was telling me that it’s sort of an overlooked field in public health. I remember he had told me that before he pursued his master’s in public health, he wanted to go to medical school, I’m trying to remember if he actually got in, and went through some of medical school and decided it wasn’t for him. But either way, he basically changed his mind went for his Master’s of Public Health, I guess he learned pretty early on about the emergency management field. So that was what he ended up doing. And so he was- He was really big on that. He was like, yeah, you should really consider that field. I remember that wasn’t one of the fields that they had talked about in my open house for my school program. They talked about different concentrations that you could pick from for your degree, whether it was epidemiology, or environmental health or biostatistics, but I didn’t remember them mentioning emergency preparedness or emergency management. So I thought that was really good insight. So I stayed in touch with him, I still stay in touch with him to this day, this was probably five years ago, or a little more than five years ago when I met him. So he’s been actually a very helpful mentor for me over the years. One cool thing about that experience when I was at that drill with this volunteer group, Medical Reserve Corps, and I met this guy who ended up being my mentor, I actually ended up getting hired at the health department where I currently work, because about three years later, which was two years ago, in the summer of 2020, he helped refer me to an open position at the health department where I work at now. And that’s the same health department where the Medical Reserve Corps was housed under some of my current co workers. I had met them a few years ago when I was part of this drill. But I didn’t know I would actually end up working at the health department and that now so yeah, it actually helped me to land the position on.

Sujani 19:16
That’s such an excellent story, Jeff, I think when I try and explain this idea of reaching out, connecting with people to just, you know, learn about their journeys to get more insight to uncover things that you’re interested in a talk about long term investments, like relationships or long term investments, you want to have this genuine interest to connect with people. And it’s not just about messaging, someone to ask them for a job for tomorrow. And I think this is such an excellent story to really illustrate that point home. One, you obviously went to go volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps to get some experience but I think in addition to getting experienced putting yourself out there, in these kinds of groups where you can meet people, it’s an excellent way to just learn more about public health. And then also learn more about yourself. Because you get to speak with more people, you get to hear about the different roles and opportunities in public health and then like yourself, five years or so later, you’re still in touch with this individual who opened more doors for you introduce you to more people. And here you are today. Right as a as a public health emergency preparedness planner in the county that I’m assuming that you live in right now.

Jeff 20:35
Yes, like you said, I think networking is key to growth in any field you’re in, really helps to have those connections, you never know what’ll happen down the line. Yeah, as you mentioned, I ended up getting this position I’m in now, work for a local health department in Collin County, Texas, I started out on the Public Health Emergency Preparedness team. And when I started in that position, that was actually my first real work experience in the emergency management and emergency preparedness field. And it was a really good experience. For myself. That was good timing. I was actually unemployed for a few months at the very beginning of the pandemic. And so I got this job in July of 2020. And the position that I got hired in was actually funded originally by the federal government, because of all the funding that was coming down at the beginning of the pandemic, and they were creating more positions in our health department. So that opened up an opportunity for me. And it was really good experience for myself, especially around the time I got hired. And the summer of 2022 years ago, there was a lot of concerns about school openings and delays in the school year. And there were a lot of concerned parents wanting to know why or why not their schools were not being closed. I remember that was one of my first tasks, when I got hired was to help answer some of these calls we were getting regarding those concerns and interacting with the general public. I would say another really good experience I got early on this position was planning the initial COVID-19 vaccine clinics, we got our initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine in late 2020. So I was part of the team that was helping plan the clinic at our health department. When the clinic started, I think we realized pretty quickly early on that it wasn’t going to go exactly according to plan.

Sujani 22:25

Jeff 22:26
It was a very interesting few months, in trying to efficiently coordinate these vaccine clinics, with limited supplies, and at the time, very high demand. But eventually, we had other partners in our county that helped take on some of our vaccine supplies. And they were able to help other members of the general public. But those are my two really big experiences in the the role I was in on the Public Health Emergency Preparedness team. And I was actually hired as one of the Medical Reserve Corps coordinators, which I forgot to mention earlier, to kind of tie back to my experience volunteering for the Medical Reserve Corps. I ended up becoming a coordinator for that volunteer group a few years later, I’m in a new position now, which I can definitely expand on more. But yeah, my previous role in this health department, I was one of the coordinators for the Medical Reserve Corps.

Sujani 23:18
Yeah, talk about kind of your first public health experience coming in like four months after the pandemic is kind of officially declared by the who I was going to ask, you know, being thrown into this role. And you’ve talked about at the university that you were looking into, there wasn’t a specific concentration in public health emergency preparedness. But did you feel like you had the right skills and experience from your volunteering kind of role, as well as some of the education to jump into these different roles that you had at Collin County to do that job?

Jeff 23:55
Yeah, I think so. As I said, that was my first real work experience and emergency preparedness. But when I had the interview, I highlighted that I did have experience being part of that volunteer group for about a year or two. And I also felt I had, you know, a lot of transferable skills from the job that had worked-

Sujani 24:12

Jeff 24:13

  • previously, in this position that I was originally hired him was also pretty broad in its scope of duties. So like I said, I was one of the Medical Reserve Corps coordinators, but I also helped with other tasks within our public health emergency preparedness department. At the time, like I said, they were creating new positions on this team because of this extra funding they were getting at the beginning of the pandemic. So they were hiring some students that were, you know, fairly fresh out of college, you know, they hired myself who, you know, I didn’t have a lot of experience in the field at the time, but you know, I had the Master’s in Public Health at least I had the volunteer experience and other work experience in health care. I think they were willing to hire people who were good students and or they had a, you know, an extensive work history. So I was hired on with a few other people who I think were also fairly new to the field. That was fun being able to network with them and learn from them a little bit. And it’s funny to think about it now, a couple years later, but I remember there were a couple of people that were new hires like me. And they were a little bit younger than me. I’m in my early 30s. Now, but they were in their early 20s. They were both, I guess, really good students in college. And they both just seem very, very smart, very advanced for their ages. And I remember I almost felt a little bit inadequate, like I felt like I was having a I was going through that imposter syndrome a little bit. I just kept thinking to myself, you know, am I am I really qualified for this position, and but I realized they were very humble, though. And then I enjoyed learning from them and picking their brain about their experience in school and their work history before the working at the health department. That was one thing I really enjoyed about working at the health department. I felt like I was able to meet so many new people and learn from others with diverse work histories and school background. So yeah, like I said, I really enjoyed that experience. And I feel like I’ve grown a lot.

Sujani 26:09
And today, you’re that new role as the planner for public health emergency preparedness, can you maybe walk us through what a day looks like for you in that role?

Jeff 26:20
Sure. Yeah. So first thing I’ll say is my current title really does justice to what I actually do in this position. So I’m actually not working on the Public Health Emergency Preparedness team anymore. Late last year, I had learned about a new grant that was coming through our health department. It’s a grant that’s funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services. It was a fairly new grant. It’s COVID-19 health disparities grant. So I learned that this new grant was going to consist of three different positions, and one of them was a planner. So I applied for the planner role, and started this position in late November of last year. My official title is public health emergency preparedness planner. But I’m working on this health disparities grant that’s funded by DSHS. So basically, what we’re tasked to do with the grant is we are tasked with engaging with communities in our county that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, we’re looking at two sets of priority communities, we’re looking at communities of low socioeconomic status, and congregate living facilities, which includes but it’s not limited to homeless shelters, inpatient mental health facilities, long term care facilities, senior living facilities, were also tasked with building partnerships with organizations across a variety of sectors, to see how we can address health disparities that have existed both historically and also been exacerbated by the pandemic, among these underserved communities. So it’s a pretty cool role. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I was actually the very first person hired on the team. So in the beginning, for me, it was more about just getting familiar with the grant. And what we’re tasked with doing. What DSHS really wants us to do is they want us to go out into these communities and collect feedback from community residents and stakeholders about basically how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic the past couple of years, and also learn what have been their challenges historically, as well, what are some of the risk factors that made them more vulnerable during the pandemic in the first place? Since the beginning of this new year, we’ve been pretty active out in the community meeting with stakeholder organizations across a variety of sectors, whether it’s health care, behavioral health, law enforcement, faith based organizations, a lot of nonprofit organizations. So in the very beginning, it was trying to find as many community events as we could to meet with organizations, then we would try to set up meetings with individual organizations to learn more about the services they provide, the populations they work with, the challenges those populations face, and then learn ways that we can, you know, develop some sort of informal partnerships to help address some of these challenges. So in the beginning, I would say our days consisted of a lot of meeting individual meetings with stakeholder organizations to kind of like build up our network of partnerships. And then also if there was a community event happening, then we would attend those. It’s actually a lot of what we’ve done the last few months. We’ve also administered surveys out in the community to collect data and you know, we analyze publicly available reports and databases, and we also host meetings that consist of our partner organizations. So I would say each week each day looks a little different depending on how we built our schedule out. But this has been a really exciting opportunity. I really enjoy the work I do and It’s definitely a broad scope of duties as far as like what we’re tasked with doing on this grant. So, yeah, it’s kind of hard to sum up what we do. Each day, you say it looks a little different, we kind of get to create our own schedule each week.

Sujani 30:13
You kind of summarized it very well. And in my head, it sounds like this, like huge research project, which involves, you know, a bit of planning for what you’re going to do, because this is clearly a brand new project that you and your team are working on. And there are things from the data side of things, the actual research, but then also the partnerships and reporting. I’m sure that’s going to kick in when you have to kind of report back about your findings. Yeah, I mean, Collin County, I was just looking it up. It’s got about a million people. So this is a not a not an easy task. And curious to hear how big your team is, and kind of how many people are working on this. And whether you’re spending your- your days doing solo work, or is that a lot of teamwork, I heard that there’s a lot of like partnerships and connecting with stakeholders and meetings.

Jeff 31:06
Yeah, so this is a small team, it’s only three of us. And our supervisor, she’s actually supervising both our team and the public health emergency preparedness team. She’s done a lot to assist us in all of the work we’ve been doing. So like I said, before I was hired in late November, I was the very first person hired. And then they hired the second person, two weeks later, the third person wasn’t hired until a couple of months after that. So for the first few months of the team, it was really just me and one other person. And then like I said, my supervisor was helpful as well. But yeah, in the beginning, we were just, we were just trying to put ourselves out there, attend community events, and just meet with as many stakeholder organizations as we can to gather as much information and feedback as possible. And I would say another challenge in the beginning of our team was through this grant, we’re supposed to report all of the information that we’re gathering each month to DSHS. So we were trying to find sort of like an efficient way to collect and organize all of our information each month. To make it easier to report it at the end of each month, we created some Excel spreadsheets with columns that consists of all the different information we’re supposed to collect and report to DSHS. Once we got the spreadsheets created that helped us organize all this information we were collecting better to make the reporting process easier. I feel like those first couple months first few months helped us establish the foundation for our team, we also created some like internal policies and processes for our team that we rolled out to have some of our duties like more formalized for our team, I think that was the challenge in the beginning was just kind of getting our foundation established. And then eventually, they hired the third person on our team. And one thing she has really helped us with is analyze a lot of the data that we’ve been gathering, especially the quantitative data, quantitative and qualitative. As I mentioned earlier, we we’ve been administering some surveys out in the community. We’ve also been looking at publicly available data through public databases, and also publicly available reports. So the third person we hired, she has helped us a lot of that, because in the beginning, because there’s only two of us, we were so busy with all these meetings and documenting all this information, reporting it to DSHS, it was difficult to find time to really sit down and analyze, especially like the numerical data, but also the qualitative data to look at trends that we were uncovering. So once we got the third person hired, that really helped in that aspect. And so I think since we’ve completed hiring our team, we have established, I think, a pretty good process, you know how we build out our schedule each month, I think we are getting closer to the point where we’re coming up with some specific project ideas that we can implement in these communities to address some of the risk factors that we’ve uncovered. So I feel like we’ve progressed quite a bit since the beginning of this year. Yeah, there’s there’s only three of us. But it’s been fun. And for myself been a really good professional growth experience. As you said, it’s a lot of collaborative work. And so I think you were asking, you know, do we work individually or as a team? That’s one thing we have had to kind of work out together as a team. As far as like our team dynamics, you know, do we all attend the same meetings together? You know, do we all you know, work on uploading notes and information from the same meeting? Or do we want to, you know, divide and conquer and spread the tasks out a little more efficiently, at times, changes with the circumstances. There may be times when we have conflicting meetings, so maybe one or two of us will attend one meeting and then the other will attend the other meeting. Each of us we all have a high Hybrid work schedule where we’re in the office some days at home other days. So that may also determine, you know, who goes to which meeting and who works on which task. So I would say as far as our team dynamics, I think we’ve probably gotten to the point where we know everyone’s strengths and skill sets. And I think everyone is starting to feel more comfortable in their respective roles on this team. It’s an ongoing process. And it’s kind of fluid, I guess, each week, but in regards to our external partnerships with the stakeholders, through our grant, we are supposed to work collaboratively with our partners. And so as I mentioned earlier, we we actually did host a partner listening session recently, we brought some of our partner organizations to the table. And we presented to them a lot of the information we gathered, and then we asked them, What is your interpretation of these findings? How would you prioritize some of these risk factors that we’ve uncovered? And we’ve kind of used their feedback to help us come up with some of the project ideas I mentioned earlier that we’re thinking about implementing based on how our partners are prioritizing some of these issues. And then now that we’re coming up with these project ideas, we’re wanting to work collaboratively with our partners to tackle some of these issues and work on these projects together, we’ve actually been working pretty closely with a local hospital in our area, and they have a community health improvement team. And they’ve actually been very helpful and provided us some some guidance and feedback and best practices as far as like community engagement, work and partnership building. And they’ve been very eager to partner with us to implement some of these potential project ideas. It’s ongoing right now. But yeah, we are trying to work collaboratively with a lot of our partnerships that we’re forming.

Sujani 36:47
What the pandemic has done is really shine the light on all of the disparities that already existed. And I think, as we are collecting all of this great data and information around how the pandemic has really impacted these different populations around the world, I think it’s going to be very interesting to see these findings. And then as a result, some of the programs that are going to come out of it, you know, you kind of start off by talking about the first job that you had wasn’t too fulfilling by the sounds of you know, how you’re describing your current day to day work and the impact that you’re having on the population that you’re serving, I can tell that the work that you’re currently doing is fulfilling you. And when you look back, Jeff, I’ll go back to maybe the day you stepped into your your college program back in 2009, to where you are today, and just kind of reflecting on the path that you’ve taken in this journey. You know, what are some thoughts that come to mind and you know, for any of our listeners who are either in a similar fork in the road, as you were earlier on in your career, what’s some advice that you can leave us with?

Jeff 38:07
I would say one thing is it’s never too late. It’s never too late for growth. It’s never too late to advance in your career. And it’s never too late to pursue your dreams, pursue your passions. I feel like I’m living evidence of that. I’m in my early 30s now. And you know, 10, 11, 12 years ago, when I was an undergraduate student at UTSA, I didn’t think very deeply about what I really wanted to do with my life after school, I think I was so caught up in my competitive powerlifting days, and I was just mainly focused on when I was in school. And I just don’t think I thought far enough out about, you know, what I want to do in my adult life after college. And I think it was mainly through the work experience that I described earlier, that helped me really figure things out. So for me, I feel like I’ve learned a lot just by experiencing things and meeting new people. And these different experiences have brought different types of inspiration for me, as I mentioned earlier, you know, working as a trainer, he inspired me to go back to school and pursue an advanced degree, then working in healthcare and going through that interview with a dialysis clinic inspire me to look into the field of public health. For me, I feel like getting that hands on work experience is what helped me learn what I liked and didn’t like about certain aspects of my professional life. I would also say if you’re a current student, and undergraduate student, or maybe even a current graduate student, it’s really helpful to be proactive about networking, and also looking into any available internships or practicums or even volunteer experience where you can get some of that hands on work experience to learn early on what you like or what you don’t like doing. And it’s also a good opportunity to network with others and learn from other people. You know, I’m actually at the point now where as much as I love what I’m doing, I’m still thinking about, is there something else I want to do beyond this, I’ve even considered pursuing some type of fellowship opportunity, where I could potentially receive some type of mentorship and learn from peers as well. As I’m thinking about all these things, and being proactive about networking and developing professionally, I do think to myself a lot, you know, I wish I would have done this 10, 11, 12 years ago when I was an undergraduate student. So as I said earlier, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams or your passions. And as I said earlier, if you’re a current student, you know, it’s helpful to take advantage of your time as a student to use all the resources at your disposal. And just to think about, you know, what you want to do long term.

Sujani 40:59
Thanks so much for that, Jeff, and for sharing your journey with us. And for walking us through the past. I want to say a decade or more of your life, and really reflecting with us today. So thank you again.

Jeff 41:12
Sure. Thank you for having me.

Sujani 41:16
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more, or want to join the club, you can visit our page at And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career Club.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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