Public Health Resources Series: Public Health Insight Podcast, with Leshawn Benedict

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Leshawn Benedict, one of the cofounders of Public Health Insight. They talk about Leshawn’s story of how he became interested in public health and his various involvements in different public health fields as well as what Public Health Insight is and how they are achieving their mission.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Leshawn’s story of how he became interested and involved in the field of public health 
  • Advice for undergraduate students thinking about applying for grad school and planning for future career prospects
  • Leshawn’s experience of learning and being involved in the public health environment of Thailand
  • Leshawn and his co-founders’ motivations for starting Public Health Insight
  • How Public Health Insight has evolved and grown 
  • What the benefits of engaging in extracurricular public health endeavors and personal initiatives on top of “formal” work are
  • Findings from Leshawn’s article  “Podcasting as a Tool for Health Communication? The Public Health Insight Podcast and Emergent Opportunities”
  • How podcasting can be used as an effective form of communicating public health information
  • Leshawn’s biggest learnings, surprises, and challenges when starting a podcast

Today’s Guest:

Leshawn Benedict is a Community Manager for a Global Health Community of Practice with over 250 members across 35 countries, focusing on addressing implementation gaps and current issues facing Neglected Tropical Disease programs. He received his Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto, majoring in Biochemistry and Biology, and completed his Master of Public Health and Master of Science (Global Health Management) degrees at Western University and McMaster University. Leshawn has a keen interest in project management and student mentorship. He is also the Founder of Public Health Insight, a public health organization committed to leading and innovating modern solutions to support evidence-informed public health communication, education, and knowledge translation.

Featured on the Show:

Other Resources:

Episode Transcript

Leshawn 0:00
Joining the public health is cool and accessible. And it’s a fun field where there’s so much that you can do within. It’s really one of the core passions I have within public health is being able to put out information, inspire other people, to show them how amazing public health is and the amazing people that work within it.

Sujani 0:19
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 Leshawn, welcome to the PH SPOT podcast, really excited to have you on our podcast.

Leshawn 0:41
I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sujani 0:43
Yeah, when you got two podcasters, it’s going to be a great one.

Leshawn 0:46
I love it, exactly.

Sujani 0:48
In addition to optimal audio quality, so our listeners will be very grateful for that.

Leshawn 0:53
I love that. Yep.

Sujani 0:54
So Leshawn, I mean, like, we’ll- we’ll get into all the exciting stuff that you’re doing with Public Health Insight. And if some of our listeners are in the space of public health, especially within Canada, I’m sure they’ve heard about your podcast as well. But I want to start from the beginning. And maybe we could hear about your journey and your story about how you entered public health. You know, a lot of people I speak to, they often tell me that it was an accidental discovery, because it wasn’t too popular during the time, maybe they when they were going into their undergraduate degree. So I’m curious to hear what your kind of journey has been, and how you discovered public health and how you got into it. And maybe we can start there.

Leshawn 1:33
Yeah, for sure. And I would fall into that category of kind of finding it accidentally. And I’ll get into that in a second. So I mean, I started off my university career, you know, focusing on biology and biochemistry. And I happen to go into the Co-Op stream. And through that stream, I got some professional experience through first working with the federal government working in a greenhouse lab, working on plant biology. And then the second kind of experience was working at a biopharmaceutical company where I really helped with vaccine purification activities, and creating vaccines that would go on to help different populations. And at this kind of stage in my career, during my undergrad, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. And, you know, kind of the typical things you would think about, like medicine, pharmacy, teaching. So I always wanted to keep my options open. And I was passionate about a lot of different things, especially teaching. So those were kind of ruminating in my mind for a while during undergrad. And then one particular thing happened during the end of my undergraduate degree, I found out that I had this health problem that ultimately ended up requiring some surgery. And this kind of took me to see a bunch of specialists across Canada. And you know, I’m going to specialist-specialist, and there’s no real luck in terms of, hey, I can help you kind of thing. So it was a tough situation. And I have to kind of take things into my own hands by going into that scientific literature. And I was thankful that by doing biochemistry, in biology, that’s something that we kind of learned how to critically analyze literature and go into it really. And so, scouring the literature, I came across a surgeon, really focusing on the specific health problem. And there weren’t a lot given that this was kind of a rare kind of situation. And the surgeon was in the US. And obviously, I’m in Canada, and it was a really hard time. So you know, I was like, I’m going to try anything to try figuring this out. So I sent out an email not thinking much of it. And you know, within a couple of hours, I got a response back saying, hey, you know, this situation seems very interesting, like I’ve done work on this. And he said, I’d love to review your scans. And for the first time in such a long time, there was some sort of hope in that situation. And I go on to send him my scans. And he’s like, wow, you’re a great candidate for this particular type of surgery that I usually conduct. And you know what, I was really happy. And I’m like, wow, so how do I- how do I go about doing this? And then the next thing I know, I get a phone call from a financial coordinator. And they’re telling me that, you know, the surgery is going to cost you over $100,000. And I’m like, wow, that is 100% not happening. I can’t afford that, like I come from a single family. My mother raised me as a single parent. And, you know, he- couldn’t even collectively come across with that type of money to- Especially for this surgery. And then the moment happened where a couple of hours after I received that phone call from the financial coordinator, the actual surgeon called and this really shook me, and has shocked me ever since when he called me he’s like, really disgusted by that quote that the financial coordinator gave me and I’m like, whoa, whoa, what, what’s going on? And then he’s like, you know, the type of care that I provide is patient centered and really attempts to understand the patient rather than focusing on the illness the patient has itself. He was going on to say, you know, my patients experienced so many different barriers for accessing care. And my practice aims to address these determinants of health. So he can ultimately provide comprehensive services to anyone. And what went on to go happen was he made that surgery accessible for me, he did a lot of things to make sure that I could access that surgery. And ultimately, that really inspired me that little experience there. And his kind of role in that and his empathy. It really inspired me to consider things beyond my limited view of health coming from that biochemical background, genetics background, and consider, you know, more of these other factors like health literacy, education, income, housing, accessibility to quality health care, and that social support that really led me to think about the social determinants of health, and how ultimately, that accounts for such a large portion of someone’s health outcomes. So that’s kind of how I got into interested in public health. And I went on to apply to my Master’s of Public Health at Western, did some work in Thailand for my practicum component. And then, since there was a more of a global health focus in Thailand, I did some research on the double burden of malnutrition in Thai children. And then I was really interested in that management perspective. So I did a Master’s of Science in global health management at McMaster. So that’s kind of how I swooped into public health.

Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever been emotional on my podcast, Leshawn, that’s a beautiful story.

Yeah, no, I appreciate that. It was- it was- it was quite an interesting journey into public health. And I, you know, it really steered me into that direction.

Sujani 6:28
Yeah, it’s quite beautiful. When you find people in the space of, you know, just the broader area of public health, whether they’re clinician or public health practitioners, like you, and I, you know, when you hear these stories, it really helps to recenter the reason why we’re all in public health. And yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard a more beautiful story than that for why someone has entered public health. So thank you for sharing that with the listeners and myself.

Leshawn 6:54
Of course, yeah, thank you. No problem.

Sujani 6:56
Yeah. So you went from your undergrad degree to your masters? Was that immediately right after you graduated? Or did you take some time to figure out what it is within this area of public health you want to kind of step into?

Leshawn 7:10
Yeah, no, that’s a great question I did take, I think it was around a year to, you know, just get different experiences, I was already working in an immunology lab. And it was kind of related to, I guess, my health condition, I just want to learn a bit more about that. That was kind of a means to just get money in the field of law right after graduating. And right after that, like I was just thinking and right starting to write my applications and creating your Statement of Interest and going through that process of applying to different public health programs in Canada specifically. And so yeah, I did take that year to kind of reflect and honestly just recover a bit from that experience.

Sujani 7:46
And there’s, you know, there’s lots of students who kind of dabble with this idea of should I enter into a master’s program within public health immediately after my undergraduate, I take some time to work and do a bit of reflection as you did, what some, I guess, lessons learned or advice that you can provide students trying to figure out what the best decision is for them?

Leshawn 8:07
Yeah no, like, I could totally see both sides. And you know, of course, after undergrad, you’re always wondering, you know, I want to do the next thing I could maybe see some of my friends and colleagues going on to different fields have their interest in starting on with their career trajectory. And you almost have that pressure of, what do I do? What am I doing? And so there’s a lot of pressure in that sense. And, of course, I know a lot of people who write after their undergrad, they have it planned that they’re going to do a Masters right after but on the other hand, I do see a lot of- lot a- lot of value in kind of taking that year or two, reflecting maybe working in that specific area. Because the reality is when you come into a master’s of public health program, you’re learning from people with such a diverse range of experiences, from their professional practice or their personal experiences, right? So you never want to really be in a situation where you don’t feel like you belong there. And I feel like if you do have some experience going into it, it certainly helps, but by no means necessary. But from my perspective, it’s great to have that rich conversation based on some of your professional practice, and a bit of your personal experience too.

Sujani 9:16
I guess the other side of that is students who are graduating with an undergrad degree, they’re looking for certain jobs and they find themselves you know, running into this issue of the job posting masters-

Leshawn 9:29
Oh, yes.

Sujani 9:30
As a requirement. I mean, I’ve kind of advocated or written about the good postings will often say that the master’s degrees’ an asset and definitely like, put your name into that tat. If it’s an asset and you don’t have a Master’s of Public Health degree definitely like sell yourself on some of the other skills and experience that you’ve built. Don’t just limit yourself to only applying to those that strictly only ask for an undergraduate degree. I don’t know if you have additional kind of tips or advice to offer when you know you’re like, okay, you’re telling me I should work. But I have an undergraduate degree, all the postings I’m seeing, they either say I absolutely need a master’s degree or it’s an asset. What would you say to those folks?

Leshawn 10:12
That’s a great point that you mentioned, we have to really look carefully with these job postings. And some of them say, you know, what isn’t an asset, it might be preferential for you to have that. But they don’t have that kind of definite wording that you have to have it. And oftentimes, you do have a lot of these experience built up from your undergraduate degree already. And think about public health as a whole. What do we always talk about? Teamwork, collaboration, that critical analysis, you have to kind of leverage those skills to your advantage. And there’s different aspects of that post that you can speak to. And there’s different ways of getting information, right, of course, MPH, or Masters of Public Health teach you a specific set of skills. But there’s other ways to get that knowledge, whether it’s through taking a specific course, doing a specific certification, volunteering for a specific organization. And another thing, I guess, to that point is, and you kind of alluded to it, let’s kind of set expectations realistic expectations. Right after undergrad, maybe it’s not good to think that you can get a director level position that requires 20 years of experience.

Sujani 11:17
Yeah.

Leshawn 11:17
So just kind of be realistic with yourself the job market, and I think it makes the process much less overwhelming.

Sujani 11:25
Yeah, for sure. And I think when you can kind of step back and do a bit more of that planning about your career, you think, okay, I do want to be a director in X number of years, pulling up a director position, seeing what sort of the the requirements are and kind of working backwards to say, okay, maybe if I want to be a director, and in a team of epidemiologists, maybe it’ll be great for me to have some quantitative skills. So how can I build those skills? And you know, starting off maybe as a data analyst. And are there aspects of your volunteer role, or your undergraduate program where you did leverage some of those skills to do some analytical projects and kind of selling yourself on those experiences and skills to the prospective employer to tell them okay, maybe I don’t have paid work experience, but I do have experience and this is how I can thrive in this role.

Leshawn 12:15
Yeah, exactly. And you know what, given the current job market, and especially from my experiences coming out of the master’s program, there’s not a lot of full time positions. And it’s often really hard to get that. And I think there’s some sort of stigma around, you know, doing some sort of part time or short term contract experience. But in my opinion, that’s what I use to leverage some of my skills. If you’re in the position, you could take a short term contract, a part time contract, and learn from everything that organization has to offer and learn different skills in public health that you may not have known about. And take that time to really network reflect. And you know, if your time comes to an end, maybe apply to another position and gain skills and knowledge and experience from that area, and keep building the portfolio, like you said, towards that eventual goal of becoming a director or manager or whatever goal you have in mind, but I don’t think there’s any shame in taking these smaller contract positions. And I’ve indulged in many of those as well, to get to where I am right now.

Sujani 13:14
Absolutely. And my experience on like yours, I went into a master’s program immediately after my undergraduate degree, because I was one of those people who felt like I couldn’t go out and get a job with my undergraduate degree. And I felt like I needed that additional training. But then, having been in the program for about a year, you kind of think about, okay, once I graduate, I need a job. So do I have the experience, I need to land a job? So you’re kind of back into that same place?

Leshawn 13:41
Exactly. Yeah.

Sujani 13:42
So I then decided to take on, like you said, smaller research project contract projects, while I was completing my second year of my master’s program, so that when I did graduate I, at the very least, could have some experience to show for and I think, you know, never feel like it’s too late to build that experience. If you’re still in your undergrad, and you’re kind of thinking about what does post undergrad look like, whether it’s a grad program or whether you’re going to step into the workforce, go ahead and get these short term projects, like Leshawn mentioned. Okay. So another interesting thing that you said was that you went to Thailand to work on was it your practicum? Or your thesis?

Leshawn 14:20
Yeah. So with the Western MPH program, there’s kind of this component where you get to complete a practicum whether it’s domestically or internationally, and I haven’t really traveled anywhere in my life. I mean, I’ve been to the US I’ve been, yeah, that’s pretty much the extent of my travel, I guess, at that point, specifically, did go to Trinidad and Tobago for a bit. But you know, in terms of a professional kind of setting, that was really my first experience out there. And the goal was to initially just learn about the way public health is done at the global setting. So especially in Thailand, initially, I got linked up with the ACN instance for health development and had great mentors in the field in that specific institution, who showed me around connected me to a lot of different health organizations within Thailand. So I went, I had the opportunity to travel to like 12 or 15 different provinces during my time there, and learning from these different health care professionals and learning how Thailand does public health and the different strategies they use to overcome, you know, different resource constraints, human resource constraints and learning about the specific issues that they face in their country that in Canada, we might not face, it was really that opportunity to get that global health lens of things. So I really appreciated that. And through my travels, I guess, through these different provinces, I was really interested in this idea of the double burden of malnutrition, where populations, individuals can be experiencing aspects of malnutrition and over nutrition at the same time, and that can lead to many health problems as well.

Sujani 16:01
And was there a reason that you chose Thailand? Or it was kind of just let me throw a dart at the map?

Leshawn 16:08
Yeah, it was, it was a mix of both. Like, there were a couple options open. Like I know, there were stuff in Geneva, there was stuff in Thailand, I think there’s opportunities in America at the time, but the Thailand practicum really stood out to me, because it involves kind of the traveling aspect and learning different aspects of health, you know, traditional ways of approaching health and kind of that more westernized perspective of approaching health. And I think Thailand, they kind of bring them both together. And they’re both super important in that context.

Sujani 16:38
Okay. So then I guess, looking back at your journey, so you did the undergraduate degree in biochemistry, and then took a couple of years to work, went to do a Master’s of Public Health degree in Western and then as I understand you also have a Master’s of Science degree in global health management. So how did that kind of fall into this picture?

Leshawn 16:55
Yeah, so what you’re getting a sense of is this idea of from that basic kind of story I had early on with my interaction with the surgeon, I was really inspired to look at health in different ways. And the Master of Public Health program did exactly that. It introduced me to the social sciences and the breadth of different fields within public health. And so having that journey in Thailand, having an understanding about these different practical constraints and considerations, I wanted to get more perspective from the business side of things. So that more management side and that’s why I decided to go to McMasters Global Health Management Program. And in that program is great because a lot of the courses we took, were actually MBA program courses that you take with other MBA students at the DeGroote School of Management. So it’s a very multidisciplinary approach where you would take courses with them. And it could be economics, it could be healthcare marketing, it could be health care management, these courses, working with these MBA students doing projects with them, and learning more about the way that they approach health. That kind of added this extra layer on my perspective of how to approach healthcare, and health in general, I think adding that layer has contributed to a lot of my interest in terms of taking a step back and thinking about how different people view health, even though they’re from different fields, that ultimately led me to pursue different educational opportunities. And I got a dual certification at the Project Management Institute, focusing on project management as a result of learning about how that would be useful in the mix when you’re talking about public health and global health. And now I’m currently doing some certifications at the Digital Marketing Institute. So kind of getting a sense of: What do marketers do? I feel like in public health, we always talk about collaboration, communication, breaking down the silos, but I’m really interested in great we always say that we’ve been saying that for a while, how do we kind of practically go about doing that, and from my perspective, being able to communicate, learn the language of these different disciplines have helped me, especially in that community building aspect, to make better connections, and approach public health problems in very unique and innovative ways.

Sujani 19:19
I’m so happy to hear that. Like, I think it’s brilliant how you’re going into, you know, essentially like the business world and trying to find the things that they’re doing really well and bringing it into public health because yeah, for example, marketing is something that they do really well. How could we leverage that to communicate health information to the different populations that we serve? It should almost be kind of a required course I think with some of these public health programs, because that is so important to health communication and understanding your audience and speaking to them in a way that they are going to want to consume that piece of information.

Leshawn 19:54
Yeah, exactly.

Sujani 19:55
Yeah. Okay, so you know, you’ve got all these great degrees in education, behind you, and how have you used all of that to kind of build your career?

Leshawn 20:04
I guess as a result of a lot of that experience. And you know, building connections was such an important part of all this, after my practicum placements, taking a bunch of these short term contracts, really trying to find a way to bring value added to stick out in my organization’s I was able to land a community manager position, which focuses on neglected tropical diseases, which is a group of disease and disease groups that are often neglected across the world and affect over 1.7 billion people across the world. And this position as a community manager, working on this community of practice, is an opportunity to get together with a group of people who share that concern within this neglected tropical disease community, interact with each other, learn how to use the knowledge that has been synthesized in the peer reviewed literature in these different forms where knowledge is presented, and learn how to do things better and create best practices and really learn how to translate knowledge and be a keeper and understand knowledge management aspects of curating knowledge to make it more accessible. So I work with a bunch of different professionals around the world. I think at this point, it’s in over 30 different countries, doctors, pharmacists, program managers, who are really looking to improve the health of their communities through utilizing mass drug administration to deliver key medications within their community, different research studies, just being able to support their practice and curate this knowledge and information. And bringing in my knowledge of global health, public health, the business perspective, community building, marketing, it kind of all blends together, in order to better serve this diverse community.

Sujani 21:52
It sounds like you’ve built your kind of journey to this role quite intentionally. Does it feel like that for you like I mean, you know, how you’re able to explain how this one role that you’re in the community manager role, it essentially touches on every aspect of the work that you’ve done and kind of ties it nicely.

Leshawn 22:10
You know what, I mean, I wish it was, it was done. So intentionally, but I think this is, this is the part that I really advocate for is, I started that job without maybe knowledge in project management or without knowledge in digital marketing. And I always like adding value in kind of seeing the seeing the different ways on how I could improve what I’m already doing to find that value added component. And my supervisor, Dr. Allison, she’s fantastic and a fantastic mentor. She’s always really advocated for me to do this. And she saw value in what I was doing. So I also want to shout out that mentorship piece, because she really inspired me and motivated me to pursue these things that I was interested in. So during my time there, whether it’s a consultant position, and moving into this community manager position, I told her about my interest in project management, and she was kind of supporting me through that. And, you know, it led to different opportunities where I was teaching our own research group aspects of project management, incorporating into that work culture. So finding different ways to add, like, technically, it’s not my role to do that.

Yeah.

Sujani 23:16
But I really, really want to find ways to bring elements of project management into public health practice, because I see that value. Right? So it may seem intentional, but it was kind of as a response to different things that were happening in the role, I was trying to find innovative solutions from outside the traditional public health and global health discipline.

And it’s great that you mentioned that because, you know, often we go into a role and feel as if we need to stick to the job description that was given to us. And, of course, I mean, you you want to take a good amount of your time to fulfill the duties that you’ve been hired to do so but I think there’s an element of your quote unquote, 9 to 5 job where I think you should give yourself some room to be creative to think innovatively to challenge the status quo of how that organization has been doing something in a good way. Right? You’re not challenging it to say that what you’ve been doing is so efficient, why are you doing it this way, but more trying to push the growth of that organization by thinking innovatively by thinking about okay, what is it that I enjoy doing? How can I bring that into this role and make my job a lot more interesting than it already is? And I think the way you’ve explained it, it’s great. And I think a component of that is having that open communication with your supervisors and mentors within your organization because they’re there to help you grow. And that’s amazing. And it sounds like you were already working kind of like in a remote environment with a virtual team long before the pandemic because your colleagues have been all over the world.

Leshawn 24:50
Yep, exactly. So the specific lab I was working with, the shift was kind of new to them. I know they value in person, one on one interact seems quite a bit. So it was a transition to our team to kind of make that virtual transition and, you know, finding the different communication channels that work best for our situation. And, you know, it’s- it’s a mixture of like with any organization, whether it’s Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. But just kind of getting comfortable with that. And I feel like in global health and public health, those interactions are so key, and you miss out a lot when you’re in this virtual environment. So trying your best to set up different touch points for these personal interactions that help you build that connection.

Sujani 25:33
Amazing. Okay, so we’re gonna, you know, shift gears a little bit, not really, because, you know, I think individuals who have taken on additional initiatives outside of their 9 to 5 job, it kind of adds to their public health career. I think there’s, there’s individuals who like to do more than their- their one 9 to 5 job and add to the amazing work and within the whole kind of public health, fear of things. And the Public Health Insight is one of those things. And for any of our listeners who have not heard about the Public Health Insight, what’s a quick elevator pitch that you would tell them?

Leshawn 26:10
Yeah, so I mean, the quick elevator pitch would be that it initially started off as a podcast in March 2020. As a result of, you know, us having conversations around this gap of knowledge that exists within the general audience and public health. I mentioned earlier that there are these peer reviewed journals, which has a lot of great information. But the kind of flow of that to the general public and seeing the practicality of some of its great resources is not really there. So we saw ourselves having conversations initially through our podcast, to kind of facilitate that gap with a varied audience. And it’s kind of since then developed into more of an organization that takes upon many other different roles, like using, obviously principles of project management, to talking about ways to highlight different professionals in public health, writing blogs, doing infographics about these different public health and global health issues, disseminating newsletters, doing teaching engagements at different educational institutions, different events that arise from the need of community members within the Public Health Insight community. And beyond that, mentorship roles, we conduct office hours, where students, early career professionals can just book these free office hours with us to just learn more about what we do in public health, and to help us guide them on their journey, if they are seeking some advice. And like I mentioned, this started off as a podcast. And when you put yourself out there, I feel like you never know what can happen. And I’m sure you experienced that with PH SPOT as well. When you put yourself out there. You never know what opportunities come to you. And we’ve started to take on different consulting opportunities with the National Collaborating Center for Infectious Diseases or other organizations in Canada, like factually helped. And overarching all these goals to the podcast and all the different initiatives that I mentioned, which, by the way, is only made possible by this amazing diverse group of 18 members that we’ve had, it really goes with our main vision to ensure that public health information can be accessed, understood and used by all.

Sujani 28:22
That’s amazing. And yes, I was going to say you keep saying we so maybe we can hear a bit about maybe the founding team. I know. There’s a couple of them. That’s part of that. And then you’re telling us that there’s 18 amazing individuals contributing to this mission.

Leshawn 28:37
Our initial kind of members, were talking about the Public Health Insight podcast, we’re members from my master’s of public health program, so MPH program at Western. And we initially started off just having normal conversations at parties or get togethers. And we’re such nerds, we just talk about public health and the different events that are happening and keep in mind at the time, there was no COVID-19 I think, probably the biggest news at that time was around the legalization of marijuana in Canada. So you know, having different conversations about these different public health issues, and really utilizing our public health knowledge that we’ve been gaining from that program. One of the things that we completely didn’t want was this idea of learning so much amazing information, useful information, and then just forgetting about it. And I think given kind of the time commitment you have for any undergrad or master’s program, I wanted to retain as much of that as possible. And that initial creation step of developing the podcast and developing to what it is now would not be possible without our other co founders Ben, Sollee, Gordon, myself, we- we’ve really kind of started that conversation off and since then, we’ve incorporated other members of our podcast either as Co-hosts like Linda or as guests like Jay, and a bunch of different members from our cohort. And I guess, taking a step back, it’s quite interesting because we really didn’t think anything of it at the time when we’re releasing these conversations into the public. But as time went on, you know, you get messages and you’re like, Hey, I was interested in the western MPH program, and I listened to your podcast, can you tell me more about it? I’m so interested in this and you’re like, wow, you’re kind of reaching out to people that you never thought you would reach out to. And, of course, you’ve probably experienced that a lot. And I have to be honest here, I listened to your podcast when I started my MPH program as well. And it was another source of inspiration to public health professionals. And I even till today use a lot of the resources for like, DrPH program. So I’m sure you can relate to different people reaching out to you and finding some value in the work that you’re putting out there.

Sujani 30:52
Absolutely. I think, yeah, I completely relate with that, where you don’t think much of it, you know, you’re putting out good work, you know, it’s meaningful, but until somebody reaches out and tells you how their decision or their life has changed as a result of something that you’ve put out, it really shows you the power that you have, and you need to use that responsibly, kind of like what I’ve what I’ve figured out.

Leshawn 31:15
Yeah. And you know, one of the things and Dr. Greg Martin was on our podcast, he’s another great public health, global health professional. And he said, oftentimes in public health, you’re making a lot of impact. But you’re just not knowing who you impact. Right?

Sujani 31:30
Yeah.

Leshawn 31:31
So and that’s kind of the behind the scenes of being in public health, you often don’t get that recognition, or you don’t know who you’re helping. There’s no face to that, per se. But in reality, there’s so many people you’re benefiting.

Sujani 31:43
Were you shocked at all? Because you mentioned that you were kind of putting these podcasts episodes out so that the general public could kind of understand these technical peer reviewed articles, for example? Yeah. And then you’re hearing more public health professionals reach out to you. Were you surprised that the audience has maybe somewhat changed from your initial plans?

Leshawn 32:07
Yeah, no, it is quite interesting, because we get a lot of health professionals, public health professionals, individuals from high school, and individuals doing their undergrad in different health fields, we initially thought that it would have this broad reach, which still, to some extent, think is happening, but what we find is, it’s resonating a lot with different students, young professionals, early career professionals in a diverse range of health field. And it kind of extends beyond that as well to some regards, because, you know, we’ve been getting messages from professors who are using these podcasts as materials in their university level courses as assignments. And, you know, it leads to different opportunities. In one case, Dr. Chrissy Chard, who we interviewed on our podcast, we came across her after she reached out in order to use one of our podcasts as a resource for one of her in class assignments. And she ended us up inviting all the CO hosts from Public Health Insight podcast, to give a lecture to her MPH class, which you never would have thought of by just putting out a podcast episode. But we’ve developed such a great relationship with her and her students at the Colorado School of Public Health. And it’s kind of a reoccurring yearly lecture series that we deal with them. So it’s kind of like, it’s a really diverse range of people, because you have, you know, professors reaching out, high school is reaching out different individuals from different community organizations reaching out so to some extent it is generalized, but I do find it’s more so resonating with health professionals and help the students.

Sujani 33:38
Oh, that’s so great to hear. And I think for some of our listeners, hearing this, and maybe there’s an idea that they have acted on, this should be good motivation. And-

Leshawn 33:38
Oh, for sure.

Sujani 33:52
Yeah, just earlier things couple of days ago, I was speaking to one of the members of PH SPOT who follows our work. And she just wanted to chat a bit about starting her own initiative. And I think I’ve had a lot of conversations with people where they sometimes feel like they’re- their job, you know, it gives them the satisfaction of contributing to one component of public health, but they’re missing something, and they’re wanting something more. And the advice I’ve given to those individuals is that maybe you’re not able to fulfill all of the pieces of a fulfilled career through one role. And perhaps you do need to do some of these personal initiatives or join a not for profit board or you know, you just have to kind of step out of your 9 to 5 role and do a few other things to really give you a sense of complete career for yourself. And then there are some people who kind of need those extra pieces and I’m one of those people and pence, I have a PH SPOT. And it sounds like you’re- you’re kind of someone that also needs that additional piece to really make your career feel a bit more fulfilled.

Leshawn 34:53
Exactly. And I’m so glad you mentioned that kind of mentorship aspect that you had with that one interaction of inspiring those other individuals within the public health space about potentially creating things from some of the ideas that they have ruminating in their minds, and it is kind of an insight I gained early on in my career, just understanding that organizations that you work for, they have some inherent limitations and barriers in terms of, you know, maybe the scope of work that they’re doing, or the different resources that they have. So you might have a great idea, and you want it to work within that kind of formal line of work that you’re doing in any given situation. But sometimes just for kind of those organizational business environment constraints, it’s not possible. But that’s why, like you mentioned, we have this outlet, and I love having that outlet, where we can express ourselves in different way and approach public health, one of our passions in kind of a different way away from this standard organizational business environment approach.

Sujani 35:56
I like to think that we’re moving into a world where these quote unquote, extracurricular activities do make it onto our resumes, and they are, they are reflective of the professional that you are, because, one, you’re able to be creative and find this other outlet, and you’re able to start a new initiative on your own. I think that kind of speaks to who you are as a person. And if you are one of those individuals that does have like the side project, I would kind of encourage you not to shy away or yeah, don’t shy away from putting that on your resume and talking about.

Leshawn 36:31
Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely, definitely. And I’m sure yourself as well, you know, when you send out your resume, and people see, you know, one of your initiatives that you’ve been kind of creating on the side, they’re really interested in, I’ve had the opportunity where during my interviews, people have asked me about it, and they’re like, wow, you do this on top of your 9 to 5 when you find the time and it’s like, it’s a great way to show your organizational skills, your project management skills, and all these other skills that we talked about. So definitely do not shy away, if you think that can contribute to your overall professional practice, especially on a resume cover letter or interview.

Sujani 37:06
Yeah, exactly. And I was recording an episode with an individual. And he kind of pointed out within the COVID pandemic, we’re seeing that these personal initiatives and the amount of national coverage and impact that they’ve had, you know, just taking Instagram accounts, for example.

Leshawn 37:23
Yeah.

Sujani 37:24
Science Sam is one- one that comes to mind. Her Instagram is huge. She’s been a huge advocate for vaccination, and the work that she’s done or on Canada project. So a lot of great work has come out of these quote unquote, side projects.

Leshawn 37:38
Exactly.

Sujani 37:39
They’ve been able to change behavior, communicate really good information, tackle misinformation. So yeah, I think you as an individual, if you feel like you can’t accomplish these huge things, we’re here to tell you that you can.

Leshawn 37:53
Absolutely.

Sujani 37:54
Yeah. Okay, so you started Public Health Insight with a number of your friends with one mission in mind and that kind of evolved. Where do you see kind of the future of Public Health Insight going? Or what is the hope for Public Health Insight?

Leshawn 38:11
Yeah, I would kind of center that around our ultimate vision to ensure public health information is accessible, understood and used by all and what does that mean, in terms of what are we going to do in the short term, medium term and long term. I think that a lot of these initiatives like, you know, community stars, blogs, newsletters, events, and these mentorship opportunities that we have are result and response to a lot of our community’s needs. And I think one of the things that we would like to do as an organization is remain dynamic and responsive to their needs. So maybe what that looks like in a couple of years is different, maybe there’s different needs and wants from our specific community. And we hope to kind of fill that- that need in and fill that gap in that they may have that arise from them. And so we do think that, you know, with these different initiatives, like the podcast, for example, we want to continue that we want to continue a lot of these initiatives and build upon our existing capacity. And I mentioned that we had, you know, 18 great volunteers that help us with this. And a lot of their role is pivotal in helping curate information, making sure that everything is evidence based, making information more accessible, like the podcast, and making sure there’s transcripts to ensure that there’s that accessibility component to our podcasts. So I think building on with what we currently have and being responsive and being dynamic with what the challenges ahead are.

Sujani 39:43
And podcasts you and I both know that they’re a great tool for communicating health information. And I think you and the Public Health Insights Team recently published a paper as well talking about using podcasts as a tool for health communication. Could you tell us a bit about findings that you discuss in that paper?

Leshawn 40:03
Yeah, totally. So one of the things that we love doing at Public Health Insight, and many public health organizations obviously abide by this is having evidence informed public health information. And so one of the first things I did was go into the literature and really understand what is- what is the literature saying about just health podcast in general. And one of the things I noticed is the positive information regarding these health podcasts, and talking about different things that have resulted to whether it’s their numbers, their reach, and how they can utilize that information to expand the reach and use this as a health communication tool to ultimately improve some of this awareness of different public health issues or changing behaviors, etc. So we felt it was important to make a contribution in this area where we think that there was not too much information, especially coming from the public health podcast landscape. And so using the insights that we have from our podcast publishing platform, it has different metrics, like total downloads, total reach, different devices that are being used to listen to podcasts, I think it is valuable to have some sort of, even if it’s a basic sort of numerical analysis to just have that out there to kind of assess the potential of this podcast, the Public Health Insight podcast, being a health communication tool. And so what we set out to really talk about in this paper is do that numerical analysis talking about during the one year period from our launch in March 2020 to March 2021. What did some of those numbers look like? What did that potential reach look like? So some of the things that we found was, we reached around 20,000 downloads, we published 61 episodes during that one year time period. These episodes were streamed in over 1500 cities, and over 100 countries. And this kind of idea of the broad sheer reach of that public health information was an interesting idea. But it also led to, like I mentioned earlier, a lot of emergent opportunities from just delivering that podcast, whether it’s students, professionals reaching out to you to learn more, that’s a behavior change, they heard our information, and they want to learn more. So they reached out to us and wanted to learn more about the different careers in public health, for example, or it resulted in a collaboration, we created this collaborative document with apt to public health, to address anti black racism in Canada. And we use the podcast to disseminate some of that information. And another kind of collaboration that we had was with one of my organizations that I work with CNNTD, which is the Canadian Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, we were basically able to have two of their leaders come on to our podcast, who are experts in the field of NTDs, to talk about World NTD day, which is every January 30th, to bring awareness to neglected tropical diseases as an issue and being able to have a podcast to amplify other people’s stories, and other people’s public health issues and global health issues that are important to them is something that we wanted to do. And it was all coming from this podcast, that’s kind of that central platform that we used. And I already mentioned the collaboration with the Colorado School of Public Health that resulted from that. So really just talking about the potential idea. And of course, we don’t have the sheer statistics, these focus groups yet to talk about some of these qualitative aspects of it. But we really wanted to just present it as idea to even encourage and inspire other podcasters to put out some of their information, make it more accessible to see what kind of reach and impact this could potentially have.

Sujani 43:39
And I think it’s such a great tool for organizations to also adopt because there’s the written form through peer reviewed articles that you could publish as a public health practitioner within your organization. And that kind of targets a certain audience. But if you’re able to within your organization, I think even pitch the idea of starting a podcast to share the work that you’re doing. It’s such a great tool to get that work out there. And going back to that topic of marketing that we talked about. The podcast could act as a marketing tool for the work that you’re doing. Right?

Leshawn 44:15
Exactly.

Sujani 44:16
Yeah. I hope some podcasters were born out of that, out of that summary that you just provided for us, Leshawn.

Leshawn 44:22
Yeah, no. I mean, that’s, I believe that’s part of both of our roles, right? We want to be really passionate about inspiring the next generation of public health professionals in showing that public health is cool and accessible. And it’s a fun field where there’s so much that you can do within. It’s really one of the core passions I have within public health is being able to put out information, inspire other people to show them how amazing public health is and the amazing people that work within it.

Sujani 44:48
And I think going back to our chat about doing these additional initiatives outside of your 9 to 5 job and how that also could make it onto your resume. This is a perfect example of your Public Health Insights Team, yes, you’re conducting a podcast, you’re running this organization. But you’re able to also publish a piece of article in the global health annual review. I guess it’s a journal run by the McMaster University. And there you have a published article that can also make its way to your resume to show that-

Leshawn 45:19
Exactly, yeah.

Sujani 45:20
You have this additional skill. So it’s not a side project that should be hidden from your overall career.

Leshawn 45:27
Yeah, and I think that’s an another thing with public health professionals, I feel a lot of the time they are modest, and you know, they are oftentimes behind the scene, but and it’s kind of uncomfortable situation that I even face, it’s like, you’re putting your voice on this podcast, and who knows what so and so are going to think about you when you put yourself out there, and the comments on social media, etc, etc. So it is challenging, and it is kind of this hurdle, you have to you know, surpass. But I think, at least from my perspective, it is kind of a challenge worth pursuing. And, you know, putting yourself out there and it has been rewarding for me, for sure.

Sujani 46:05
Absolutely. I can completely agree with that. I go through that every day asking myself like, who am I do this podcast? Who am I to talk about careers in public health? What are people going to think? You always have that impostor syndrome, I think regardless of what you’re doing, and I think it’s yeah, you just have to keep telling yourself that you do have a gift to share with the world and, and how you do it is up to you and what you’re good at, but definitely I think everyone should find an outlet to share that. Okay, so we kind of talked about the future of Public Health Insights, I want to go back to like, Leshawn, what is future for Leshawn looking like in terms of your public health career?

Leshawn 46:47
Ah, the future of LaShawn? That’s a great question. For me, I think it’s kind of what I mentioned earlier, it’s this idea of how do we act upon what we’re talking about in public health. So collaboration, communication, breaking down those silos. My goal, and my passion as a public health professional, is finding these practical ways to address exactly that. And that’s from learning to speak the language, learning different concepts in economics, politics, business, digital marketing, marketing, and synthesizing all that information under public health and utilizing that as a skill. And like you mentioned, as well, a lot of these things that are happening in the business world and marketing are very effective. But we can find ways to adapt that within the context of public health settings, or global health settings, to make a huge impact. So my goal as a professional is to continue pushing myself to develop a multidisciplinary skill set. So I’m able to better connect people and have conversations and have these collaborations. That’s kind of what I want to keep doing.

Sujani 47:56
Thank you for sharing that. And thank you for sharing your journey into public health and where you’re hoping to take the rest of your career to shine with our PH SPOT listeners. And I’m really hoping I can bring you back on to hear more about the work that you’re doing with Public Health Insight, and, of course, within field of global health as well.

Leshawn 48:14
Thank you so much. And it’s such a pleasure to be on the PH SPOTlight and learn more about the amazing work that you do at PH SPOT and know this that, Sujani, you’re doing some amazing work. And I know a lot of public health professionals that have been benefiting from your work. So I just wanted to name that because like I said, in public health, oftentimes, we don’t know the names or the faces of people that we’re helping.

Sujani 48:37
Thank you so much, Leshawn.

Hey, so I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I wanted to let you know about the career program that we run here at PH SPOT. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about building your dream public health career, then we can help you through this program. It’s an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals. And this includes recent graduates and students. And you can now join the waitlist at pHspot.org/program. And you’ll be notified when the next cohort opens up. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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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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