Leadership in crisis, with Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health – Lawrence Loh

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Peel Region of Ontario’s medical officer of health, Lawrence Loh to talk about what leadership looks like in times of crisis.


You’ll Learn

  • About Lawrence’s work that he’s been doing as a public health figure in the Peel region of Ontario during the COVID-19 crisis
  • The difference between responding to public health challenges in times of normalcy versus a crisis
  • Skills for a public health professionals to focus on during a crisis and the unique opportunities that may arise
  • What it means for public health professionals to be leaders in their communities, and the different styles of leadership that take place
  • The ways that young professionals can use the unique opportunities available in times of crisis to their own advantage for themselves and their community
  • How do deal with criticism as a public health leader

Today’s Guest

Lawrence Loh

Dr. Lawrence Loh, MD, MPH, CCFP, FRCPC, FACPM is the medical officer of health for the Region of Peel in Ontario as well as an Associate Medical Officer of Health at Peel Public Health and Adjunct Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

In his past role at Peel Public Health, he provided strategic leadership to the Health Protection division (consisting of Environmental Health and Immunization Records), the Healthy Built Environment portfolio, and also lead the department’s digital strategy and strategic priority on advancing health equity. His work as faculty at Dalla Lana has included research into global health training experiences and teaching with the public health and preventive medicine residency program.

He completed undergraduate training and medical school at the University of Western Ontario and residency at the University of Toronto, during which he also earned a Master of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. He holds certifications in family medicine in Canada and in public health and preventive medicine in both Canada and the United States.




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Episode Transcript

Lawrence 0:00
This is a really exciting time to be entering the field of public health. This is a awesome opportunity use it to build a- build a portfolio, use it to set yourself off at a foot. And don’t just think of it as COVID piece, try to look at the hard skills that you get out of it, right, to make sure that you can say, I can do data analysis, I can do you know, policy analysis, I can do evidence reviews, whatever the case might be, basically pull it out of what you did specifically for COVID. And look at how you can actually apply that skill more broadly.

Sujani 0:33
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.

Hey, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight and I’m here to help you build your public health career. On today’s episode, I talked to a good friend of PH SPOT Lawrence Loh. You may remember him from a number of popular posts on our blog such as “Start with Yes”, or “The Myth of the Global Health Gamble”. He’s also come on this very podcast to speak about his perspectives and experience with career advancement and family life. So we’ll make sure to link up everything in the show notes page so you can go read some of these great articles he’s written and also listen to his past podcast. For those of you hearing Lawrence Loh’s name for the first time, he is Peel region’s medical officer of health. Peel Region is a public health unit in Ontario, Canada. So Lawrence came into this role, months before the pandemic was declared and has made significant impact during his time. A recent Toronto Star article published a story under the headline, “The man who took on Amazon, closed schools and defied expectations, who is Peel’s top Dr. Lawrence Loh”. This summarizes the bold steps that Lawrence is taking to protect the 1.3 million people of Peel Region. And so when Lawrence approached me with this topic of leadership and crisis, I knew that there was no better person to have this discussion with. And beyond that I was just so grateful that despite his extremely busy schedule, Lawrence sat down with us to speak to his peers, public health professionals about this topic. He tells us on this episode, why he decided to sit down with us quoting a good friend of his who explained the importance of documenting lessons learned and reflections during a crisis, rather than waiting till that emergency is over. So without further ado, here’s our chat.

Hey, Lawrence, thank you so much for joining us again, on PH SPOT. I mean, you’re not a stranger to this community. So welcome. And thank you so much for joining me.

Lawrence 3:09
Sujani, a lot has changed since the last time I chatted with you all, but I’m glad to be here.

Sujani 3:13
Yeah. And we’ll be sure to link that up. Because I think we were both in a very different mindset when we did this probably just maybe over a year ago when we last chatted on the podcast.

Lawrence 3:24
Yeah, that’s about the interval that everything changed.

Sujani 3:28
For sure. And then there’s been, I think, really good blog posts that you also pulled together during that period. So we’ll make sure we link all that up for our listeners. But today, I think we’re here to chat about a very timely topic. And I’m very, very happy he reached out and kind of pitched this idea to me. I was personally you know, always wanting to talk to you more. But given how insanely busy is an understatement that you’ve been, I’m just very grateful and appreciative that you took the time to chat with us.

Lawrence 4:01
Yeah, I’m happy to be here. One thing I’d share with all your listeners, whether they’re learners, or whether they’re professionals, faculty that are out there, I got some good advice from Dr. Omar Khan, who’s a physician that I’ve partnered with on some global health projects, and he lives in Delaware. But he was basically just telling me he’s like, you know, the reality is there, there needs to be some recollection and lessons learned and, and a bit of a record, once the COVID 19 pandemic ends. And he says, sometimes we don’t think of it, but actually being able to impart some of those lessons and those experiences in the midst of the emergency actually will have tremendous value as opposed to a retrospective. So I’m very committed to wherever I can, despite my, you know, capacity challenges, to try to share- to share the perspectives of how the response has gone and what I’ve learned.

Sujani 4:54
Oh, no, that’s wonderful advice. Yeah, I hadn’t thought about it like that. And I think it’s easier to say, let’s do this so that after all this chaos is gone away, but very important to also capture kind of doing during the activities that are unfolding kind of where you and I are currently living. And so yeah, the topic is leadership and crisis. And I think before we get into that specific topic, a related question I wanted to ask you, Lawrence was, when we talk about a leader and I’ve, I’ve done a couple of different episodes related to this topic of leadership in public health. I just wanted to throw that question to you and ask you, when we talk about a leader, how are you defining this word? And, you know, is it- does it only apply to someone in management or a position of power? I’d like to kind of set the stage a little bit before we jump into that question of, yeah, leadership and crisis specifically?

Lawrence 5:51
Yeah, it’s a great question. Sujani. And I think to the extent that there’s different kinds of leadership, regardless of the context, I think that still applies, even if you’re in an emergency situation. Ultimately, you have people that are leaders, you know, by virtue of their designated position, and, and sort of the, the line authority that comes with that. But we also know that in this pandemic, in the midst of an unprecedent emergency response, so many professionals, within the public health sector, and also beyond our community, partners, etc, have all stood up to have all put in really heroic efforts that have gone above and beyond that, it really level set a lot of the conversations, both in terms of things that need to be advanced, in order to- in order to ensure that the response is success, and also to identify things that need to be resolved or things that need to actually be addressed, to ensure that we’re able to succeed. And, you know, people have been able to do that. Even, you know, for example, just operationally, whether it’s casing contact, managers identifying a different way to do a process or even just spotting or noting unique patterns that then get, you know, flagged for further follow up. And then exploration, where you’ve got, you know, call center managers who go above and beyond knowing that they’re the voice of the community, your frontline call center staff, we know that they are the ones that are that calming voice on the line for Southern Air community who may be scared or concern, our public health inspectors who’ve been out there, enforcing some of these health orders and really just, you know, demonstrating through their professionalism at you, even with a fatigue community, even with the entry level behavior and receive that there is still a commitment to why they’re doing this and why they’re doing it. There is an opportunity, of course, to have that influence and to demonstrate leadership and every aspect of our work as public health professionals.

Sujani 7:45
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, when we’re even just browsing around on the web, Twitter, Instagram anywhere, I think we’re starting to see also really good examples of leadership just in the community itself demonstrated by not only people within traditional public health roles, and I think the ones that come to mind are individuals who are, you know, crowdsourcing data from various sources, journalists, just volunteers, students, and it’s just been amazing to see that everyone can play that leadership role in this- in the context of this pandemic right now.

Lawrence 8:20
And if I could add to that, I would say absolutely those examples that are out there, but I would say one thing that has really become crystal clear in the pandemic, but it’s often known in sort of approaches to leadership, like we all know, there’s different styles of leadership, right, you know, in terms of whether people are maybe more directive, maybe more involved, maybe more influencing whatever the case might be. But the reality is that one of the fundamental principles of any successful leader, whether it’s a, you know, a line leader, or or an influence leader, is their ability to work collaboratively. And together, I think the people that I’ve seen the most success in the in their leadership efforts and their drives, within the pandemic, are the ones that are not out there, slinging mud. They’re not the ones out there, you know, insulting or tearing down other people. I think, in the midst, especially of an emergency response to this scale, the most successful leaders are the ones that understand that we ultimately only get through this together and working collaboratively and bringing all of our different strengths and perspectives into some sort of line that allows us to move forward rather than in constant conflict, which we also see, unfortunately, some demonstrations of that sort of engagement and leadership in our community as well.

Sujani 9:31
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think we’re both kind of alluding to the current situation right now, but it’s probably best at this time to kind of set the stage as to why this topic is relevant. And specifically, right now, we’re kind of recording this towards the end of April. Could you describe to us kind of the current situation you’re dealing with? I think it’s something that’ll kind of set the stage for us and some of the additional questions that we’re going to chat through.

Lawrence 10:00
For sure. So the region appeal which is the jurisdiction to the west of Toronto comprise the cities of Mississauga, Brampton Canada, has been one of the hardest hit health units in the country. Pretty much consistently throughout the pandemic. A lot of this is defined just by population characteristics we have a dense 1.5 million population is significant amount of people, which is, as we’ve seen, thrown pandemic fertile ground spread. And we also have a very diverse community both economically as well as culturally. And by virtue of that are combined with an employment profile that sees a significant number of jobs that cannot be done from home, built up really around the you know, Canada’s Business International Airport Pearson, we have all these manufacturing, distributing, warehousing, I never realized how much stuff we produced a deal until the pandemic, I mean, I always knew it produced a lot of stuff. But the sheer diversity of stuff that we produce here, the region, appeal really is Canada’s economic and manufacturing hub. We ultimately everything comes in through Pearson, everything is, you know, made here and sent out through Pearson. And it also really keeps the rest of the country, home and state. So right now we’re dealing with rates are at 80.4% test positivity, we’ve got a case three case volume of almost 400,000-100,000, throughout the region, our hospitals are seeing significant burdens hundreds of patients with COVID transportation said every day across the province of Ontario, and we have so many workplace outbreaks, because it may have increasingly people workers that are being sickened by invariants, which further and faster. This whole context has really explained our unique challenge in the region appeal and why we’ve had to make some difficult decisions that take into account what is- what has been one of the most difficult and challenging community contexts in the midst of the epidemic in Canada.

Sujani 11:59
And I think we’re kind of seeing similar trends throughout the province of Ontario. And then also internationally, we’re also seeing some changes, especially with India and Pakistan. So I think, an understatement to say that we’re in a period of this pandemic, where it’s almost all hands on deck. And we- and you alluded to this kind of working collaboratively working together, not just isolating the problem to your own specific community. And so, you know, when we talk about this concept of leadership and crisis versus leadership in, let’s just say peacetime? How are you- are you looking at these two roles differently? Or do you kind of see them as a similar role?

Lawrence 12:50
I think they are, there are elements that are similar in both leadership contexts. But there are also elements that are different, right? In general, I, one of the- so I mean, if I had to maybe describe some of the differences, I would highlight that in the midst of wartime or an emergency response, a crisis, you don’t have the luxury of time. And that’s one of the biggest challenges. And so to the extent that, you know, spread is occurring, people are getting sick, and people are dying, especially if you’re at significant risk of transmission, the worst thing to do is to dither it, you know, not making a decision is actually making a decision. And it is absolutely vital that especially if something’s there, you have to realize that it may be better in many instances, to understand the situation, but to move to a decision, you know, as rapidly as you can, knowing that it’s easier to make a decision to change the trajectory of something and then you deal with the other aspects of it, but you need to do you need to do the most necessary thing to actually control the immediate threat, and then address the other aspects of it later on. And that’s been something that’s been very challenging, because I think a lot of people, even here in our, in our, in Canada, and has been seen, I think it with the challenges that many liberal democracies have had in controlling this virus, save it except for, you know, Australia and New Zealand, which have significant geographic advantages. I think the challenge that a lot of liberal democracy faces that they are, we are very consensus driven societies, we are societies where it’s kind of like you have to listen to all the different viewpoints. And then you have to try to figure out some way forward that makes sense to the middle ground that everyone’s kind of happy with the result. But when you’re faced with a virus, the challenge here is it’s not as tangible. It’s an invisible threat, unlike- unlike something like a hurricane, or a, you know, an ice storm, where people would be like, oh, yeah, hurricane is coming. We need to get people out of here. It’s different when it’s a virus that spreads from person to person and you don’t really see the collective impact until it starts showing up in your hospitals. And that makes it so much more difficult to actually institute preventive measures before it gets bad because the reality is people are just like, well, this is no big deal. I’m not seeing it. And that also makes the decision taking- decision making a little bit difficult. So it really is vital that leadership and crisis to be able to say, no, no, this is an emergency, this is a disaster. These are the steps we need to take. And as has been seen throughout the world, the sooner you take the decision, the sooner you’re actually able to address the immediate control the problem. I think the other difference I would draw between crisis decisions and decisions that are made during peacetime is that ultimately you’re making decisions in crisis with very limited data and evidence. You there may not even be a roadmap for what you’re trying to do. Oftentimes in peacetime, it’s just kind of like, okay, we know how these various stakeholder groups have positions on these previous things, etc. No one has any idea what various community or business or, you know, other interests in our society have views on a pandemic response, like that was just not part of it. And everyone is literally making up their positions as you go. So I think one of the things that we’ve seen criticism of is public health advice changing, but the reality is that, the advice has to change, it has to evolve, as we learn more as the data changes, as we learn more, and understand the needs and preferences of partners. And that has been, honestly, the stakeholder engagement and management has been one of the most crucial aspects of my job, and just making sure that the community understands why we’re taking the decisions that we do. And so you know, there’s that but of course, the other piece is, you know, in terms of similarities with regular leadership, communications is still critical, it’s even more critical of anything you need to communicate, you need to explain why it’s happening, you know, to be able to keep stakeholders involved, you know, even, even sparingly, you know, just at least keeping them informed, you know, that actually helps to build goodwill and allows you to have a relationship that you can actually build on quickly. And then of course, ensuring that you address the inequities and disparities, because the reality is that whatever you’re deciding on, it’s not going to be felt the same way throughout the community. And we all know, COVID-19 has really impacted some of our most vulnerable, but really, those were they were the most vulnerable even to begin with, without COVID-19. It just took a disease that spreads from person to person to remind us that we’re all connected.

Sujani 17:05
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, that kind of goes into my other question of providing just public health professionals in any area of work that’s either focused on the pandemic or other other health issues, because I mean, those are also things that are important that we can’t ignore during a pandemic. You talked about collaboration, stakeholder engagement, ensuring that we’re taking actions with the inequity lens, are there other kinds of skills or areas that public health professionals could focus on to build up skills during this time?

Lawrence 17:43
So I would, I can give you three things, I think Sujani that I think are absolutely important. First thing, and first and most important thing that I would give every public health professional out there is to really understand the importance of self care and personal well being in an emergency situation, especially a prolonged emergency situation, like what we’re undergoing, whether you’re a contact tracer, whether you’re a public health perspective, whether you’re a leader making decisions, you are experiencing a unique pressure and burden and you are experienced- you may experience, you know, significant operational trauma. You know, I know for our contact tracers or case managers, one of the biggest challenges that we’ve tried to navigate is not only just the harassment and abuse they get from some people who, you know, frankly, should know better and different for frankly, which there should be no zero tolerance, but also the trauma of having even done contact tracing, say, with a case who would later succumb to the disease, and that kind of grief, ndt that kind of loss, you know, it weighs on people. And it is absolutely vital, in the midst of an emergency response for any professional who’s involved in it, to understand, you know, their risks, to understand their blind spots to understand how they need to take care of themselves, because they can’t take care of others, and they can’t take care of their community if they’re not taking care of themselves first, and what is a challenging time for all of us. And the reality especially is that a lot of public health professionals, we’re living the same nightmare as our community, we’re not going out, we’re not having fun, we go to the grocery store, and like, you know, mask up like it’s- we’re all having the same slog that everyone else is there, but also in the course of our duties, assuming that additional burden and responsibility. So self care is absolutely vital. In that- in that first piece of in and for any leader in this response, I think the other two things are really a political acuity and a sensitivity for what’s happening in the community. You know, anything and everything could potentially become a massive story, because the media frenzy is, you know, frankly, it’s just insane how how much interest there is in the media. And really, it speaks to the need for people to just really be on their best behavior as much as they can to really understand the potential repercussions if something were to happen if you’re out inspecting a place and something goes down, that could become a story if you’re, you know, on the if you’re interacting with a clinic that is refusing to listen to your infection, prevention, and control recommendations. And they decided, you know, leaked to the media if you say something uncharitable to them. So having that political acuity and knowing that, that sensitivity to the situation is also vital to making sure that you’re not only protecting yourself, but your organization. And I think the final thing I would say is also just broad situational awareness is- is also important because, you know, whether we like it or not, it’s difficult to just be, you know, circumscribed to one role as a leader, your, as someone that works in public health, you’re not only going to see a leader within the organization, but you’re also to be seen as a leader in your community, in your networks, in your circles, your family and friends are going to ask you questions, they’re going to ask you stuff around vaccines, they’re going to ask you stuff around, you know, what you should do for isolation, they’re going to ask you stuff for how you should respond to certain new regulations or policies or whether they should pay slips or paid sick days. So you’re always a bit of an ambassador for your public health agency, but doubly so in the midst of an emergency response, where you know, that a lot of people out there are fearful, scared, looking for information, and chances are, they will turn to you because they see you as a leader as well.

Sujani 21:04
Absolutely. And I think on that last point, my husband and I were talking about this, you know, as a public health professional, you also have this added responsibility of building trust within your own community, because people are looking to you for that information. So if you don’t have good situational awareness, you don’t want to be part of the problem. You know, you want to be able to communicate evidence based information to your families and friends and ensure that they can, you know, trust public health, and I think that’s an important component of the pandemic right now.

Lawrence 21:39
Absolutely. And I think the reality is, is that we have, you know, this infographic that has sprouted up around the pandemic, is one of the things that ultimately, you’re being situationally aware, it’s really important for leaders and public health professionals to know that that is actually what is driving a lot of the challenges that you see at work, right. So when people refuse it when people may not be confident, given their vaccines, or when people may be, you know, pushing back on contact tracing, because they think it’s a government plot, or whatever the case is, it’s really vital for you to, you know, in being situationally aware and being politically acute, to understand what’s being said around our response, and what’s being out there, because it will make your job and your leadership easier, as well as you know, if you know, what’s being said, and how to respond.

Sujani 22:26
So here’s a question for you, in addition to these three skills that you are, you know, three areas that we should focus on as public health professionals, or is there anything that you would change or add if we’re talking to early professionals or students who haven’t gotten their foot into the workforce just yet, and maybe they’re graduating this year or in the next year, so anything more that you would add to the- to this list?

Lawrence 22:51
Well, this is a really exciting time to be entering the field of public health. And the only thing I would add to the list is, this is a awesome opportunity to both get applied skills, if you have the opportunity to land a job and just basically, you know, soak it all up, soak up whatever you can out of any job or opportunity that you’ve been given, use it to build a- build a portfolio, use it to set yourself off at a foot. And don’t just think of it as COVID piece, try to look at the hard skills that you get out of it, right to make sure that you can say, I can do data analysis, I can do you know, policy analysis, I can do, you know, evidence reviews, whatever the case might be, basically pull it out of what you did, specifically for COVID. And look at how you can actually apply that skill more broadly. And then I think the second thing, you know, regardless of whether you’re in the midst of an opportunity, or not, really look and learn from the examples of leadership that you’re seeing around this, one of the interesting things about being a pandemic is you do get to see different leadership styles of action, you do get to see different leaders and you’re trying to understand that the decisions that they take and what they’ve- what they’ve done. So you know, trying to, you know, try to tune in and learn from the people that are actually you’re standing up whether they’re frontline staff or whether it’s, you know, in line authority, individuals who have taken difficult decisions, and looking at their style aspects of their- of their approach that could be adapted things that you can learn from how they have conducted themselves. The pandemic provides ample opportunity for you to to explore that as well.

Sujani 24:23
Absolutely. I think you mentioned, you know, if there’s a way they can get into any role that’s related to just supporting the pandemic, that’s one way to get experience. But can you think of any other ways if they don’t find those opportunities to traditional job applications? Is there anything that you would urge these young professionals or early professionals to kind of get involved in supporting the pandemic response in our country, or even around the world?

Lawrence 24:51
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, to the extent that if you can’t get into the specific official, quote, unquote, condemned response, as So one of the professionals that supporting things like contact tracing, outbreak investigation, enforcement or order vaccination or any of the other things, communications surveillance that we see, there are lots of ancillary opportunities or supportive opportunities. We know, for example, lots of academic institutions have researchers that are looking at this. And so getting in there trying to join research projects, and there’s likely no shortage of opportunities there. You know, certainly nonprofit organizations or civil society organizations, maybe even frontline community agencies that are assisting or supporting responses will at least give you that interface. And that glimpse into how the community is working together with public health organizations or agencies, you know, a lot of different organizations, grassroot organizations have popped up to essentially develop, IT solutions to develop websites to develop, you know, social media campaigns that support all aspects of the response, and especially bringing, you know, if you’re a younger, professional, and have the opportunity for your unique perspective, and to reaching out to your demographic, that- that’s another opportunity there. So I would say if you’re not necessarily involved directly with the Public Health Agency in response, there’s all of the related research, community engagement, and also broader communications and interface support, that there’s- that will allow you to at least have both a glimpse into the agency from the outside, but also to develop skills that will stand you well, in the future, should you end up in a public health agency role.

Sujani 26:20
Those are all really good tips. Going back to your specific role, Lawrence, you know, you’re a leader and talking about the two types of- kind of leadership roles you could take on whether it’s through your designated position or kind of fueling that from the inside and saying, you know, I’m a leader during this pandemic, and I’d like to contribute to my community, I think, either of those, if you’re in either of those roles, you are going to have to deal with criticism one way or another in one form or another, and how have you kind of dealt with the criticism that’s come your way. And of course, I’m thinking other leaders in today’s environment are also dealing with it. So any, anything that you could share with us around that?

Lawrence 27:05
Well, I think the first thing that you have to do is you have to really rely on your team. And I have an excellent team at Peel Public Health, they have gone gangbusters on this emergency response since January 2020, since we knew very little bit of this virus and- and you have to know that your team and you know, and and, you know, build up and work with your team, knowing that they are performing knowing that they are giving you the best advice, knowing that the data that they’re pulling together, the information deployed together, that is, you know, the standard of practice that needs to be out there. And so I think that’s, that’s one thing I would say is you’re really relying and trusting your team and knowing that you are well supported with them, and making sure that you are supporting them. That is essentially the most important because ultimately, you know, you’re all in this together with that common goal of trying to serve the community, you’re not there on your own as a leader. And I’ve been very grateful for the support of my team for the support of the Regional Council as for the health that I’ve, you know, even if we have different opinions sometimes on where things should go, they’ve always supported us, they’ve never really been, they’ve never, you know, disagreed and actually pushed back totally on anything that we put out there all ultimately they ask questions to understand and to learn. So I think relying on your board of health who are going to absolutely vital, I think the other piece dealing with criticism is to also know where it comes from. Right? And so there’s a recognition that a lot of people out there are frustrated, a lot of people out there have been impacted in one way, but not the other. They may have been impacted with COVID. But they’re not necessarily, you know, seeing their business suffer, or they’ve seen their business suffer and all these other pieces that are wondering, what’s it all for what’s what’s, what’s all the good, and the prevention paradox writ large, just kind of overseeing that. So you need to understand where the frustration comes from, and try to make sure that you’re not taking it personally, I have a newfound respect and admiration, I will say for airline pilots, you know, for you know, when when their flights delayed, I have a newfound admiration respect for store clerks on Black Friday, they have an impossible job where they have to tell angry, frustrated, you know, exasperated people that know we can’t fly because there’s a giant hurricane. And no, sorry, I don’t have your vaccine for you yet. And I have a whole new respect for them. Because I know they probably use many of the same tactics to just understand it’s not directed at them personally. It is frustration. It is the unmet expectation that is that people really see. And the last thing I would say is rely on your broader support network as well. So people say mean things, but I’ve been really great. You know, I’m really grateful. And I think one of the most ironic things about this pandemic is that I’m actually someone who actually enjoys social interaction. I enjoyed going out to bars and restaurants with friends, I enjoyed going for karaoke on Friday nights, I enjoyed large parties where lots of groups of people came and can mix and intermingle and network and obviously I now you know, I’ve staunchly stood to my own advice in the last 14 months to not meet and I can count on both hands, the number of people that number of friends I’ve met in person over the last 14 months however, you keep it up through zoom, right? And you keep going up through this little email is one of my personal things that this is actually a great tip for any public health professional, anyone that’s starting out right now, I usually go with this rule of thumb that if you think of someone, and you actually haven’t connected with them or haven’t contacted them for some time, just send them an email or text, like, it’s just like, oh, yeah, thank you so so wonder how they’re doing, don’t wonder, send them an email, send them a text reach out, especially now. We’re all kind of physically disconnected. That actually has been one of the things that has kept my social calendar full, even if it’s still been kind of on Zoom, as opposed to.

Sujani 30:31
That last nugget of advice that you gave just made me smile from ear to ear, I think that’s yeah, it’s a nice time to do that. Because everyone’s just looking to connect and fill their social calendar just a little bit more at times. You know, the final question, I wanted to ask you, Lawrence, being a leader, you know, one of your indicators, I guess or thing that you’re striving for is to influence change. And, you know, within the context of this pandemic, and where public health has played a big role hand in hand with some of our political leaders and decision makers, how would you say, I know this is a huge question, but how do you influence change in a time like this working with our political representatives, and decision makers, any thoughts that you can offer there?

Lawrence 31:25
So I think the most critical thing is that you have to establish a good working relationships, I had the unique challenge, because I actually assumed this role three days before the first wave came crashing into our community. But I think, you know, just really making sure that you, you work with your political leaders, your municipal leaders, you, you keep them informed, you share with them knowledge, ultimately, if you set them up for success, like for example, if you give them the status report, given the messages, they can use the stuff that they can push, knowing what role and cover they can provide, you know, and in ensuring that your response can go, it’s really important to just have that constant communication, that- that really good working relationship. And then I think overall, you know, in terms of- in terms of sort of working, you know, not just with your political leaders, but there are all these other stakeholders that you need to work with, right, you know, and the school boards if it’s where the province is the province, I think an openness and a willingness to have conversation. And ultimately, with any conversation, starting with an understanding that we have a shared goal, our shared goal is keeping people safe, saving lives and making sure that we bring this pandemic under- under control in our community, you know, as long as you’re going in there, recognizing that everyone is, again, even with trolls, that people that are like reaching out with uncharitable comments, ultimately, everyone is scared, everyone is frazzled, everyone is tired, you just need to remember and I said this early on in terms of an approach to leadership, we get through this together, it is about trying to find a way forward together, understanding what their needs and challenges are, you know, providing them with our perspective and our data and understanding, and then really trying to come up with something that we know is going to work for, you know, for our community and for that specific issue that we might be addressing, collaboratively.

Sujani 33:08
Yeah, no, thank you for that. And just to wrap things up, any parting words of wisdom or advice for the public health community to show up as leaders during this time?

Lawrence 33:20
Well, I would say just going back to what I said, just continue to learn what you can from the leadership that has been demonstrated to date by various leaders, continue to act on your own understanding of the situation, to be a leader in whatever role you might have, whether it’s in an agency or in a supporting function, and really just making sure that you’re taking every opportunity to grow and learn. I have learned so much from this pandemic, from my involvement in the- in the roles and responses that I’ve been given. I know that my staff and my leadership would say the same, I think the lessons learned will be valuable, not just for us as practitioners in the future, but ultimately, individually, not just for us as practitioners in the future for our agency, but ultimately individual- for individually for our own professional development as well. So I’m really grateful that we had the chance to chat Sujani, I’m hoping those lessons will continue to hold as we get towards what will be brighter days in the future.

Sujani 34:17
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Lawrence, for joining us. And we really hope that we keep connecting.

Lawrence 34:24

Sujani 34:26
Hey, so I hope you enjoyed that episode with Lawrence on leadership in crisis and are feeling inspired to think about how you can show up as a leader during this pandemic. And I also want to say thank you for all the great work that you’re doing in this world. And like usual if you want to get the links or any information mentioned in today’s episode, head on over to pHspot.ca/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you leave, I wanted to let you know about a new workshop that we are pulling together here at PH SPOT titled, “Beginners Only, how to launch a public health website”. So if you have wanted to build a website for your organization, or perhaps a public health project or initiative, or even a portfolio page of your work for employers to see or perhaps to start your consulting business in public health, but didn’t know the first thing about building a website, this is a workshop that you need to check out. And so if this is of interest to you head over to pHspot.ca for more info. We’ll also add links to sign up to this workshop under this episode. So if you are looking at the show notes from Episode 30, with Lawrences Loh, you will also be able to find the link to this workshop. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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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