From Emergency Medical Technician to helping organizations make sense of their data, with Heidi Berthoud

hosted by:

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Heidi Berthoud, the founder of Heidi Berthoud Consulting. They talk about Heidi’s career journey, what led her to creating her own company, and how to successfully build a network and run a business.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Heidi became interested in public health through frontline work as an EMT and other personal experiences 
  • Advice on breaking into public health for those who may not have a formal public health or science background
  • Heidi’s experience with balancing school and a full time job
  • Heidi’s experience with research and her areas of interest
  • Advice for those looking to get into consulting work including networking tips, building a client base, and figuring exactly what kind of work you want to do 
    • What resources such as business coaching are available
  • What Heidi has learned from running her own business

Today’s Guest:

Heidi is an experienced leader who began her public health and social service career at a large non-profit county hospital supporting training teams in the nursing education department. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Washington and concurrently completed a Global Health Masters Certificate. 

Heidi has more than 20 years of knowledge and experience in health care research, evaluation, technical writing, public health initiatives, qualitative data collection and analysis, and patient advocacy. Her experience includes working with government, academia, and non-profit organizations and she has been invited to work with Indigenous communities developing and delivering surveys and evaluations. 

She is the founder and principal consultant at Heidi Berthoud Consulting, LLC where she works with Public Health departments and health and social service organizations conducting community health needs assessments, program evaluations, and helping teams collect data they can actually use to improve their work.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Heidi 0:00
Never underestimate relationships, I find they have been so sustaining through my career and you never know when you’re going to be in a position to help someone else, or they are going to be in a position to help you or give you advice. And so, for me, and especially now running my own business, like that’s even more for me, like just building those relationships and making those connections.

Sujani 0:30
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.

Hi Heidi, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So wonderful to have you here today with us. And I’m excited to jump into your career journey.

Heidi 0:56
Hi, Sujani. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to chat with you today.

Sujani 1:00
Yeah, so you know, let’s just start all the way to the, you know, at the very beginning, because I kind of looked into your career journey a little bit. And this question popped up in my head, which was like, How does somebody with a major in history and in public health? So at what point did you kind of discover public health? And maybe you might have to tell us the whole story from when you decided to pursue a history major. And then you know, everything else that came after that before you discovered public health? But yeah, take us to the very beginning.

Heidi 1:34
Oh, that’s such a great question. I love that you saw my history major, I think a good understanding of history is always important. But yeah, it was a roundabout journey to public health. I have grandmother’s actually, all my grandmother’s were nurses. And my parents were EMTs, when we were when I was little living in a small rural town in Idaho. And so I think there was kind of a health component always there, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing it at all. And I actually got my history degree and thought I was gonna go to law school. But through a series of events, some of it traveling internationally and seeing health conditions and other countries. And then quite frankly, seeing health conditions in the US as well made me start to think about health on a population level. And then I also had one of my best friends died by suicide by handgun, and it really kind of opened my eyes to a totally different way of thinking about health and mental health and what it means to think about health at a population level. But I still didn’t entirely know what that meant. It just kind of turned me away from law, I guess, at that time in life. And so I decided to start pursuing health and I thought maybe I would be a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. And so I started working as an EMT, here in Seattle, Washington. And that was a really tremendous experience. And it really actually then opened my eyes to social determinants of health, and different ways that people’s ability to access care or not access care for a variety of situations that are often not in their control impacts their long term health. And it just made me realize I really liked this concept of public health on this larger population scale. And so I decided to pursue my master’s in public health. So it was definitely roundabout. And I took a couple of different paths to get there. And I haven’t looked back, I’ve loved it since.

Sujani 3:27
How long did you work as like an EMT kind of in the frontlines?

Heidi 3:32
Oh, not very long, little bit less than a year at the time my husband was waiting to get we were married, but he didn’t have a work visa yet to work here. So I was the sole breadwinner for the family. And I have to say, I hope it’s improved. But being an EMT doesn’t pay very well, I was making $8 An hour and it was a little hard to to support us both on that. So I’m not sure how much that has actually changed. That was about 15 years ago. But you know, unfortunately, it’s some of those frontline positions just don’t pay very well. And I wish it was different. So not not as long as I would have liked to I would have stayed in it, I think longer but then I switched into actually clinical research, and then I got into graduate school.

Sujani 4:14
So do you think it was as you were working on the front lines, just seeing patients and stuff, that’s when you were kind of like just thinking about health? Well, I guess you said you were thinking about health at a population level during those specific moments in your life, but it sounds like you know, while you were working hands on with with patients and stuff, that’s when you kind of have this idea to perhaps pursue it as a career may have emerged. Is that right?

Heidi 4:41
Yeah, totally. I mean, I really loved the patient care side of it, and especially, you know, meeting patients in this like, you know, when you call 911, it’s like super urgent and you’re meeting patients at this like really crucial moment, but I was also exposed to like, all the other things happening so you might be responding to someone living in a not great conditions, or maybe even someone like living on the street or you’re responding to a scenario where you’re just seeing all the other factors that impact health and a person’s health. And then you’re delivering them to the emergency room. And then you’re seeing, you know, emergency rooms being crowded, or, you know, nurses and doctors and everyone having a lot on their plate. And so I just, it was a really great way to see the whole kind of bigger picture. And it definitely got me interested in what are those factors that lead people to have some of the health outcomes they have, because definitely there was just accidents that we would respond to that couldn’t be avoided. But often we were responding to like, long term chronic disease issues, or maybe mental health and substance use disorder issues. And so just thinking about what are the bigger factors at play here, that impact a person’s health in that way, and may lead them into, you know, chronic disease or something that’s not manageable. And so yeah, it definitely shaped that for me. And then just quite frankly, seeing like, where it was a lower resource part of town, and then patients there didn’t have access to the same resources that people in like a higher resource part of town had. And so just trying to understand how all of that played into someone’s health was what really like, yeah, led me into the public health field.

Sujani 6:25
And it sounds for someone who didn’t go to university for like the sciences or health, you seem to have been well informed about just, you know, the interconnectedness of- of all of the social determinants of health and how it was impacting your patients. And I’m thinking you probably credit that to your your grandparents, or your- Yeah, I think you said your grandmother’s and your mom, who were both, you know, clinicians. And so I’m also curious, are you having kind of these conversations with your colleagues? Or are these like conversations you’re having in your head when you’re seeing your patients day to day?

Heidi 7:05
You mean, in the moment when I was deep? I wouldn’t say my colleagues at the moment, we’re thinking of it quite the same way. But I was definitely starting to have those conversations like with my husband at the time, he’s still my husband, but we were having the conversations at the time and started to talk about it with my parents. And my dad’s actually, he’s an engineer. So he has a very kind of science data driven background. And so it’s yeah, those conversations were definitely starting, then. I mean, I feel like I didn’t have access to a lot of the understanding and vocabulary that I have now, after getting my degree and working in the field for a while and building up a network of other people who, you know, have similar interests and experiences and understandings. But yeah, there was definitely something that started there for me thinking about some of the outcomes that I was seeing in the field.

Sujani 7:53
Yeah, I asked, because I think it’s just kind of a good way to just figure things out and get more clear about, you know, your your career path, if you’re feeling stuck, or you’re feeling like you want to do something more, it’s, it’s very helpful to talk it out with people. And it seems like that’s what you were doing. And then you kind of mentioned that you then went into clinical research within a year of working as an EMT. And that was before you went to get your master’s degrees out, right?

Heidi 8:24
Yes, it was, yes, I was trying to angle to find a way to get a job at the University of Washington here in Seattle, because I knew if I could work there, then I would get part of my school paid for. So that was kind of a strategic move. And I I ended up eventually then getting a job at the University of Washington, but I started working at a small, just clinical research company, and they would do allergy and asthma research. So I would still work with patients, we’d have people come in for clinical research studies, and I would, you know, interact with them and take vitals and do kind of some basic things. And then that was just a great experience for me to sort of bridge that patient care connection into like the science side of that, because like you said, I didn’t have a formal science background. And so that was a great way for me to, to get into that side of things.

Sujani 9:11
Yeah. I have a great question for you. Because some of our community members at PH SPOT, you know, a lot of them are formally trained in public health. But recently, I’ve also come across some some individuals who are transitioning from one career into public health and one person that comes to mind he, he was an engineer and you know, formal training and engineering. He worked as an engineer and then now wanted to come into public health. And for someone who doesn’t have that sort of, you know, formal training or formal education, how did you position yourself to say like, Hey, I wasn’t trained as a researcher, you may not have gone to university to get a degree in public health or the sciences, but you know, I’m great at XYZ and I can do this job and I’m the best candidate because, you know, one of the conversations we were having with this individual in one of our career program was that he was convinced that he had to go back to school, get that formal education before even, y’know, trying for a job in public health. So I’m curious to hear what your advice would be.

Heidi 10:14
Yeah, that’s such a great question. I mean, and you know, honestly, for some people that going back to school and getting that degree is just not feasible for time reasons or financial reasons. So, yeah, I think it’s so great to think about that, from the perspective you just gave, which is, you know, I had had some patient care experience working as an EMT. And then I’d had a lot of like, project management type experience before that. And so I was able to just pull out those skills that I had, and use those when I was interviewing for the clinical research job. And it was a kind of an entry level position. But they were really looking for someone who could do basic patient care and was comfortable working with patients and was comfortable, like, interacting with people kind of in that way. And that was a skill set that was really easily transferable. And then, when you’re running a clinical research study, you know, you have to be pretty meticulous in your like data collection, and just organized. And so I was able to transfer, like previous project management skills into that. And so I think, I think depending on what field you’re trying to go into, in public health, there’s lots of transferable skills, you don’t have to be a direct service provider, necessarily, a lot of it is just understanding how to interact and relate with people and keep yourself somewhat organized, depending on what your project is, and then just a real curiosity and interest in learning. And a lot of people come to the field with those skills from other disciplines. So I think for me, that was key. And that was part of the reason I did get my EMT license and do some of that work, because I did want to have some of that hands on patient care experience, because I thought it would be a good bridge for me.

Sujani 11:55
Yeah, it’s almost like focusing less on whether you have or don’t have, like the content expertise, and more so on the functional skills that that job is looking for, and and really, you know, honing in on those transferable skills. Because regardless of if it was public health or not project management, for example, communicating with team members, or even, you know, communicating with different populations, those are skills that you can really focus on and bring to light during your interview or even your application. Just say, like, yeah, it wasn’t in the context of a public health job, but I can do these things.

Heidi 12:32
Yeah. And I really enjoy learning that way, too. I mean, I can read things in a book or you know, in a presentation, but I the hands on skill building is where I feel like, I just really need that piece. And not everyone learns that way. But I think for me, do that was really helpful.

Sujani 12:49
Yeah. Okay, so you start working as a clinical researcher at the University of Washington, and then you kind of alluded to the fact that you did end up going to get a master’s degree at the same university. Tell us about how that transition took place. Were you working full time and, you know, pursuing your master’s degree? Or did you end up you know, pausing your work and then pursuing the degree?

Heidi 13:15
Yeah, my clinical research job, it was not at the University of Washington, but then it led me to another, I ended up working at the institutional review board at the University of Washington. So for anyone familiar with research, it’s the ethical review board for human subjects research. So anytime a research organization is doing research, like with people, or on people like testing drugs, or testing some kind of an intervention, that’s the review board so that my clinical research job got me was able to then get me into the job at the University of Washington. And yeah, I did go to school and work full time. So the University of Washington has an Executive Masters of Public Health Program. And that was, that was great for me, because it allowed me to work and pay for school and pay my bills and get a little bit of a discount. So I did that full time. And it was two years straight through. And then I also did a global health certificate, as well, because I was curious about global health. And I was wondering if that was something I was going to pursue when I finished my MPH. But yes, so I did work full time at the IRB while I was there, which was also interesting, because I got to review a lot of the biomedical research that was coming through the university, there’s a big global health research component, there’s tons of other medical research and it just further steeped me in kind of the sciences and gave me more exposure there because you know, I didn’t have that background.

Sujani 14:42
And then you kind of continued your your path as a researcher even after graduation, right?

Heidi 14:49
Yeah, so I ended up then getting a job at a research institute here locally, and that was great. So I was able to take a lot of my project management skills and research background skills and then apply them. So instead of reviewing the research like I did at the IRB, I was actually getting to do it. So I worked as a project manager and a research associate, and that really got me exposed to. So for my thesis for my MPH thesis, I did water access and quality. I did a qualitative assessment in the Dominican Republic, in a small community. It is a community that was built by a sugarcane factory to house the workers. But often it was poorly resourced. So there was usually no running water and really poor sanitation. And so I was just doing a household survey in one small community in the Dominican Republic. And while I was there, they ended up having their first cholera outbreak, it was a really big deal in the community, an infant died. And it just really like further exacerbated a lot of the racial tensions between the Haitian immigrants and the Dominicans in the community. And so it was a really big, fast learning curve for me to be there.

Sujani 16:03

Heidi 16:04
Data collection. And so when I was done with my thesis, I really wanted to do more of the hands on research. And really, I loved I really fell in love with the qualitative work. And so yeah, I worked at a research institute for about six years, on a whole variety of things, I mean, largely worked in teams, where I would be the project manager for a big research project, or I would be doing some of the data collection and maybe the qualitative analysis. So it was a whole range of things and a lot of federally funded projects. So got to work on a whole scope of things, which is really great.

Sujani 16:40
When you kind of were leaving your EMT role and stepping into public health, did you kind of have research? Did you have that in mind as the as a path that you are going to pursue? Or would you kind of say it was just based on chance, and based on the opportunities that came your way that essentially built this path for you?

Heidi 17:01
I would say the latter. I mean, there were a lot of things about research I enjoyed, but especially at more of an academic research institute, it feels very removed from the actual people who are getting it from, you know, the research, but quite frankly, so when I was at the IRB at the University of Washington trying to find a job after that, lots of organizations wanted to hire me to do their IRB work, because it’s really, it’s really tedious and specific, and I was really not identified about five years, and I was ready to do something else. And so it was actually really challenging for me to find a true public health job because everyone wanted me to be their IRB administrator. So the research job was a nice bridge, and that I would do some IRB work, but I would also get to do more hands on work. My goal was to move even further towards like working for a public health initiative or a public health department and more, you know, hands on public health work.

Sujani 18:04
Where did that kind of lead you to after the six years at the Research Institute?

Heidi 18:09
Yeah, there was an organization starting up nationally, but they were starting a Washington office, and they were a reproductive health, nonprofit startup, they were a little bit past the startup phase. And probably after grad school, several years after grad school, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, which I didn’t know anything about. But when I look back, I had it. I mean, like most people discover they’ve had it for a long time. And so it led to multiple surgeries and kind of my own patient journey. And I realized how few resources there were out there for endometriosis, and I got really mad about it. And I got really involved in advocacy and helping other women or, you know, people who were born as women to access care in that space. And so I got really interested in reproductive health and reproductive justice and access. And so in 2018, at the end of 2018, I had the opportunity to work for this organization that was starting up and they hired me as their I was started as a state impact officer. And then it was director of monitoring evaluation and learning. Because some of the work I’ve been doing at the end of my time at the Research Institute was around evaluation. So that was great. And it was a it was starting up. So the whole initiative in Washington State was just getting started. And it was a stellar dream team of people. And we were connecting with local federally qualified health centers and indigenous communities and other communities that maybe didn’t have great access to contraception or family planning services. And then we would provide them with the trainings, we would train their providers on how to do contraceptive counseling. We would train providers on how to place an IUD because it’s a pretty, you know, you have to have some skills in that really cool pelvic model from Switzerland that you could like, learn to place an IUD in real time. It was really interesting. And then we’ll be developing the monitoring and evaluation like the metrics, patient surveys, a lot of the stuff I had learned in my research experience. So that was a really cool transition for me because it was, it felt like, you know, Direct Public Health Initiative. And I was I had been for a while wanting to work even more locally in Washington State. So that was just a perfect fit.

Sujani 20:25
Yeah, for you to have a personal connection to that space as well. Must have been super fulfilling to

Heidi 20:31
totally Yeah, yep. And then just really, everyone that worked there, were super passionate about reproductive justice and reproductive health. And yeah, that was great. And I learned a lot and starting up an initiative, you know, from the very beginning was a great learning experience. So that was that was really great.

Sujani 20:48
Yeah. And it sounds like, you know, even before you started that initiative, you had started dabbling in on some independent consultations as well. Yeah, maybe tell us a bit about why you started doing that. I’m guessing on the side of your desk while you were still working full time.

Heidi 21:05
Yeah, a colleague invited me to work on a project with an indigenous community, the lower brule Sioux tribe in South Dakota, to do some evaluation work of their healing to wellness court, which is it’s an it’s a great model, but it’s essentially instead of incarcerating folks for minor drug and alcohol offenses, it allows them to have more of a healing experience. So they meet with the judge, and they engage in like traditional practices. So it’s a much more like a harm reduction approach and more of like, meeting the community where they’re at. And I just loved it, because it was totally different than anything I’d been working on. And it was really an eye opening experience to understand what was happening in the this in particular indigenous community. I mean, no indigenous community is the same as the other. But it was important project to do. And it was really good to just understand kind of more of what you could do with things like evaluation and data collection in communities where you can give that data back to them and use it directly. A lot of my research had been collecting data, and then it goes into a database. And yeah, maybe makes it into a paper, which is important in its own thing. But I was really interested in getting more into like, kind of this immediate impact of using that research methodology. So doing the consulting on the side was a great way to start to understand what that would mean, and to learn how to be really respectful in an indigenous community, because there’s been lots of harm done in those communities with research. And so just having the honor of being invited to do that, and how to, like learn how to be in that space, too, is really, really important.

Sujani 22:41
Yeah, I think some of these kind of, you know, at first we consider them as side projects, in addition to our full time work, as you know, just opportunities for us to learn new skills, new content areas. You know, for me, I started PH SPOT, as you know, similar to you, where you went ahead and supported that colleague of yours on this project. For me, it was this, I don’t know, I want to call it passion. I wanted to call it this like, ah, of just wanting to build something. Yeah. And I’m recently a friend of mine had also asked about that, you know, she started working full time, and she’s still trying to figure out, you know, what is it that she enjoys, and is wanting to do a bunch of other additional smaller projects and just, you know, gigs on the side to figure out what it is in public health that that she still enjoys? And, yeah, curious to hear, you know, how did that journey? I mean, I know how it ended up because now you are full time, you know, in your business as a as a consultant and doing some great work and work that you enjoy, but kind of at the initial stages of when you said, Okay, let me be a part of this project while working full time. Yeah, what are some reflections or things that you remember from that period?

Heidi 23:51
I just found it so energizing, like in a intellectually, and just really kind of seeing how some of these components of public health were really happening in communities. And I just, I really paid attention to that because it was more energizing in some ways than some of maybe my, maybe some of my day job work was and yeah, you’re so right, it like led me down the path that I’m on now for sure. But it was also a good exposure to the nitty gritty of running a business, you know, just invoicing clients and getting paid and how do I think about my taxes, and just kind of all that stuff, which honestly, it kind of overwhelmed me at first, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to spend too much time doing that. But I liked these side projects. And, you know, when I had the time and space, I was happy to do them. I think I also quite frankly, like having worked full time and gone to grad school. When I finished I felt like I had an immense amount of time on my hands. So it felt feasible for me to do those things for sure.

Sujani 24:55
And you did that for about seven years. Like working full time. And then doing these side projects?

Heidi 25:02
Yeah, on and off. Yeah. They weren’t always, you know, taking up all the time. But I was really interested in just always kind of being available especially, there was a couple of different people that I liked to work with. And I just, yeah, I just I enjoyed being available and having gaining that those new experiences and then also meeting new people through that process. So it was, it was really fun. And I it’s I think it really did start to kind of focus on where I’m at now.

Sujani 25:33
Yeah, it sounds like the first opportunity you got to consult was through a colleague who already knew you and it sounds like they had reached out to you versus you kind of saying, hey, I want to do consulting. Do you have any work for me? Am I- Am I getting that, right?

Heidi 25:50
Yeah, yeah.

Sujani 25:52
Do you have advice for people who are kind of, you know, just thinking I might want to take a stab at consulting, and they’d like to find some work for me, but no one’s calling me up. And, you know, asking me if I can help them out on a project. Just curious to hear, you know, finding clients is one of the biggest barriers for a lot of people in wanting to step into this kind of work. But in terms of your experience, and any advice you might have around that.

Heidi 26:19
Yeah, that’s such a good question. And I think, if I hadn’t been invited, I’m not sure I would have thought to seek it out, honestly. Because I think I would have not known where to start. So I think that’s such a good question. So I did start about a year and a half ago, I did start my own public health consulting business. And I will say, even back then, when my colleague invited me, and then now as I’m, like, gaining my own clients, it is just having conversations with people. So anyone you know, even if it’s like, your neighbor, you know, or you’re picking up kids from school, or whatever it is in your daily life, and you’re just kind of chatting with someone about what you do. And you never know where there could be some sort of connection. And so being able to say, you know, I do this, but I’m interested in getting more to this. Someone might say, Oh, my cousin, brother, uncle, neighbor also does that. And they were looking for someone, or oh, how interesting. I, you know, so I, for me, it’s a lot of that type of thing, like just having conversations, and just being pretty clear about what kind of work I want to do. And then I can talk to people about it, or, you know, kind of put it out there for lack of a better term. But not everyone feels comfortable being social, like, yeah, I really enjoy that. But that’s not for everyone. So I know other people who have just built up kind of maybe like a social media presence, where they talk a little bit about maybe on LinkedIn like that’s a really good one. But kind of what they’re interested in or what they’re thinking about. That could be another option, too. And then I’ve heard and I did this a little bit, but not kind of widescale. But I’ve heard from other consultants, where they literally just send an email to everyone they know.

Sujani 27:58

Heidi 27:59
And they just send an email and say, this is what I want to do. And this is what I’m curious about. And do you know anyone? So there’s a couple different options? Yeah. Yeah,

Sujani 28:10
I love your first tip, which is telling people where you’re headed, or what one of your future goals are going to be? Because I strongly believe in the idea that, you know, we’re not going to achieve our goals all by ourselves, and like, we need to have a community around us who’s going to help us. And I think, yeah, I’m glad you didn’t say go out and network because I think that kind of it is kind of a tangible piece of advice. But I think when you broke it down to say, like, tell people when you’re, I don’t know, watering the grass, tell your neighbor, what you’re up to. And some of those yeah, less obvious things could definitely lead you somewhere where, you know, we often think you have to only network with your professional circle, but I think your personal kind of circle could also help you reach your goals, right?

Heidi 28:59
Yeah, and I was gonna say like, also, don’t hesitate to reach out to people like Sujani, you and I are talking to the beginning. I heard Stephanie Moxley on one of the podcasts, and I just resonate like the work. She’s doing a similar to my work. And I just, I just connected with her on LinkedIn. And we’ve had several we’ve stayed in touch, and we’ve had a great chat. And so also not being afraid to just if you hear someone on a podcast, or if you, you know, see someone on LinkedIn or whatever, like don’t be afraid to reach out because we’re more I’ve found that people are more receptive than I would have thought.

Sujani 29:33
Yeah, yeah, no, I totally agree. And, yeah, I’m so happy that you know, our podcast was able to connect you and Stephanie together. And I recall another conversation I had with Maudra Brown on another episode, and she kind of talked about how she launched her consulting and it wasn’t planned. I think the pandemic could have happened and she went to her children’s school and said, like, how can I help? I know, I know you’re all kind of just not knowing what to do the pandemic is happening. Everything is new for everyone. These are my expertise. This is what I do in public health, how can I help? And so, you know, she wasn’t even thinking about starting a consulting business at that point. And that sort of, you know, initiative that she had taken had led her to then launch her business eventually. So I think, yeah, just just putting yourself out there and being of service. And I think you kind of wrote about that recently, where you said, just go out there and do good work. And then like, your logo and website can kind of follow after that, right?

Heidi 30:39
Yeah, no, that was, that’s, I’m glad you saw that. I really, when I started my business, and I think other people who started their own business, you, there’s all these things you think you need to do right away. So I was trying to do a logo and get a business name and all these things. But I ended up getting a contract. And I just started working. And I did set up systems. Like I think it’s really important to set up systems. So I don’t want to minimize that. But having a logo ended up not coming till like a year and a half later, but I’m so happy with it.

Sujani 31:11
Yeah, and I think it goes back to like your third advice, where you said, just email everyone, you know, and tell them what you’re up to, and ask them for the work. And I think that might feel so nerve wracking to do but start with one email to email three emails, and then it’ll come very natural to you just to say, Hey, I’m thinking of consulting. This is a space that I’m going to be focusing on or specializing in, these are the services I’m willing to offer. Do you know anybody looking for someone?

Heidi 31:43
Yeah, and I think doing it on the side is helpful, too, because the reality is, like, most people need to pay bills. And so being able to, like, you can build a little bit of a client base, while you still have a full time job is super helpful, or, you know, figuring out how you can save up or your partner can help you financially or something like that, because I do think the financial piece like often gets over looked in conversations. But you know, most people need to pay bills and save money. And so I think, just think being like honest about that. And one of the things I’ve loved I’m in several different consulting, coaching groups, and just support groups. So that essentially like collaboratives, and a lot of them are there women, and we talk a lot about, you know, hourly rates and not under selling ourselves, and especially the women of color that I collaborate with, like just being comfortable asking for that. So the same thing, like you’re saying, sending emails out that feels scary, like, also feels scary to ask for money, asking for money to do things. And so I think like, all of that is just you start you do it once and it feels scary. And then it’s not as scary the second time and then like, it starts to feel less scary and more like just part of what you’re doing.

Sujani 32:59
And I think that’s where talking to other people also helps. Right? And and I think I’m definitely doing this more is like being able to have comfortable conversations around money around salaries around what are you charging if you’re a consultant, and I think we definitely need to move towards having those conversations more more freely.

Heidi 33:21
Yeah. And so many women or people who identify as women right now are starting their own businesses. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that. And I think there’s a lot of potential, and there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility. And there’s a lot of responsibility, but I think it’s mostly really a lot of potential, which is great.

Sujani 33:37
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I have two more questions for you. You know, one is like, where did the decision to go full time into the consulting? Like, when did that happen? And then what kind of drove you towards that?

Heidi 33:50
So it you know, it always been on the side. And I always as my career progressed, I started to think more about, could I do it full time? What would that look like just sort of had been contemplating that for a while. And then the job I was at the reproductive health organization went through some pretty dramatic changes in the pandemic, and they had a lot of leadership leave. And so I actually opted to leave, which was a tough decision, because it was a great team. But I was no longer really focused on working in Washington, which is what my original goal had been. And it felt like it was time to go and actually they ended up laying off quite a few staff. So I opted to leave, which was scary because I didn’t have another job lined up.

Sujani 34:31

Heidi 34:32
I was a little bit tired at that point. And I think everyone was this is the beginning of 2021. So it’s like, definitely right in the middle of the pandemic. This is the first time this had happened to me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, and I didn’t have something else lined up and I wasn’t even applying. And that was a pretty big deal for me. I’ve never done that. I’ve always worked I was often the main breadwinner in my family like so that was a really- That was weird for me. But I took a little time my husband was super supportive, and he had a great job. And he was like, take some time rest, think about what you want to do. And I just decided to try it to launch my own business. So I launched last year in May, May 2021, I had one small project, but really no clients lined up. A couple people, you know, said that they might hire me for things. And then I just had a lot of people who are really excited for me. And that’s like, that’s half of it right there. I mean, you definitely need to make money. But like, you know, when you talk about people being afraid to send out an email, like, I was surprised at how many people just wrote me back to say, This is so exciting, I am can’t wait to see what you’re going to do. I mean, they didn’t have any business for me. But they were super excited. And I really wanted to bring some values to my business that I really wanted to hold on to. So I wanted to work in communities. There’s some great indigenous groups here that do a lot of things around data sovereignty. And I wanted to bring some of those concepts into my work. So really like making data accessible, making data as transparent as possible, having it be usable right away. So I started doing evaluation work. And I actually now have a growing portfolio of community health needs assessments with county public health departments and federally qualified health centers. And that’s so fun, because I’m actually building like, I’m able to work with other consultants, so I can subcontract them into my business, or I can contract them to their business. And we can all collaborate like a team. And I love the qualitative data collection. And I found someone who loves to do the quantitative and she’s a whiz at it. And it’s not my, it’s not my- So I bring her in. And I have another partner who, she’s an awesome copy editor and proof writer. And so those are some of the values around data that I had. And then I also am really trying to do a four day workweek, which I know is really popular right now. But I’m going to kind of adhere to some of those things just for like overall health and mental health. And then really getting to choose the people I work with, you know, and so it’s been really fun to just build relationships. I mean, networking is kind of like you use the term networking, and it can be kind of like, think it has like an icky connotation to it and feel it too. But for me, it’s just relationships, like, yeah, building relationships, then those people become repeat clients, because we all like working together. It’s been really exciting. For the most part, it’s been slightly terrifying. For sure. I hope it’s gonna last for a long time. But I- it’s growing. I’m not trying to grow super huge. I want it to be something that I can, I want to still do the work I like to qualitative collection. So if I can find a way to grow it, without like, losing touch with that, that’s my goal. It’s been so fun to meet all the other entrepreneurs out there. There are so many amazing people doing work on their own. It was like a whole world I didn’t even know existed.

Sujani 38:02
Yeah, there are a ton of individuals in public health doing great work. And yeah, I think you just have to put yourself out there and they’ll find you for sure. I love that your your portfolio is growing. So best wishes from me and everyone listening, I hope that, you know, it just keeps going and you find some great projects. And the book “Company of One” comes to mind, I haven’t read it. But I’ve heard great, great things about I don’t know if you came across that. But when you say that you want to intentionally keep your your business small. And you want to be the one doing the research that what kind of comes to mind. The other part is, you know, aside from a beautiful logo and beautiful color palette on her website. I really love how specific you are in the, you know, organizations you want to work with and the work that you want to do. And you see helping health focused nonprofit and social change organizations demonstrate impact through better data collection and storytelling. Was that like very clear for you from the get go? Or did you have to, you know, go through a few projects before kind of landing on that to say, Okay, this is where my zone of genius is. This is where my interests lie. This is what I’m going to focus my time on?

Heidi 39:20
It did take a little while. Yeah, thank you for- for pointing that out. It did take a little while to really hone that in I will say I think my original phrase was like five sentences longer. In part because I think what happens when you start your business, at least for me, like I didn’t want to leave anything out. But I started working with a business coaching group through this woman named Tamra, who focuses on coaching, business coaching, and then I also had another business coach Dr. Charlotte Hughes Huntley, I want to call them out because they’re both awesome. And they helped me really kind of focus and solidify and not feel like I was just worried I was going to be like, you know, I would Lose some, some potential client because they didn’t see themselves in that phrase. And they helped me understand that that’s not the case, this is really just kind of like, where I feel like I could shine as a as an individual. And you know, like, also being a white person and working in spaces where and using terms like anti racist and using terms like data equity and equitable, you know, I want to be really thoughtful about that and continue to learn and grow as I like, understand, you know what all of that means for myself. And so, because a lot of social change organizations are out there, like doing good work with communities of color. And so I wanted to be thoughtful too, about how I fit into.

Sujani 40:38
Yeah, no, I love that. I know that. And we’ll definitely link up your page as inspiration for our listeners kind of just thinking about how to set up their own businesses, you know, this wonderful journey you’ve had, and thank you for sharing it with us. When you sit back and kind of reflect on these past, I’m not going to count how many years but well, what are some reflections that come to mind for you and if any advice that you can share with our listeners,

Heidi 41:07
never underestimate relationships, I find, they have been so sustaining through my career, and you never know when you’re going to be in a position to help someone else, or they are going to be in a position to help you or give you advice. And so, for me, and especially now running my own business, like that’s even more for me, like just building those relationships and making those connections. And I think in the pandemic, we all really recognize how much we needed that. And so-

Sujani 41:37

Heidi 41:38
For me, that has just become like this shining North Star in all of it. And even doing work with clients, like I- I’m building a relationship with them. It’s not a purely transactional experience. It’s like there’s a relationship there to at least that’s part of my vision and my goal. I would say that, and then I think, trying to stay curious, you know, things are evolving a lot in the world, in technology in healthcare, you know, and in public health, the last couple years have been dramatic for everyone. And so I think just like trying to stay curious. And then I would say the third thing is just I’ve gotten better about just taking care of myself, because if I can take care of myself, I can take care of others. And I can do and work. And I think that’s a theme that’s becoming really popular right now. And I think for good reason, especially people in the public health space and the health care delivery space. Everyone’s tired. And so-

Sujani 42:34

Heidi 42:34
Finding ways to take care of myself is really important, especially in my own business, because I could just go go go, which is partly why I’m really trying to do a four day work week, because I’m like, so I can do other things.

Sujani 42:45
Yeah, yeah. I love that. What are you most excited about when you think about the future? And what are some goals that you’re working towards?

Heidi 42:54
I am really excited about just seeing where my business goes, and who else I get to work with and what we can do together. So that’s pretty fun. And also just building kind of a body of work, I just have a couple things that’ll that’ll be public soon that I can put on my website. And that’s pretty exciting. To think about that. I’m also I took up mountain biking in the pandemic, and I’m like, excited. I’m better at it. I mean, I’m here in Washington and Sujani you know, like, mountain biking in British Columbia is a big deal. And so just I’m excited to like, explore all these other sides of my life too, that I really that I enjoy. And I’ve got a couple great women friends that like to mountain bike with me. So like just, you know, a good balance of personal and professional things are rising.

Sujani 43:44
I love that you definitely need that outlet that’s not you know, work all day. I hadn’t played soccer since high school. And that’s kind of what I’m looking into as an outlet to just, you know, distress and maybe, you know, be a key child again.

Heidi 43:58
Yes, I love it.

Sujani 44:01
Well, thank you so much it like this has been such a wonderful conversation quite inspiring as well. And I know a lot of our listeners are going to find a lot of inspiration from this and, and who knows, you know, you might have somebody reach out to you the same way Stephanie’s episode prompted you to reach out to her.

Heidi 44:19
I would love that. Thank you so much.

Sujani 44:25
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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