The beauty of public health, with Doug Taylor

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Doug Taylor, the Director of Operations and Finance for Fact Forward. They discuss Doug’s career journey, how public health and health education has changed over the years, and the different paths that public health can take you.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Doug became interested in health and wellness after serving in the military health corps and a medical event in the family
  • Doug’s experience with his undergrad and graduate degree and what extra value an MPH provides 
  • How public health in the 90s differed from today’s environment
    • How sexual health education evolved as a result of the HIV pandemic
  • The importance of being engaged in public health communities and societies and making connections 
  • Why Doug pivoted from working in government to nonprofit
    • Doug’s experience stepping into a leadership and management role
  • How to deal with the more abstract nature of getting results and making change in public health

Today’s Guest:

Doug Taylor is the Director of Operations and Finance for Fact Forward, a statewide non-profit in Columbia, SC, focusing on adolescent reproductive health. His role includes ensuring operational efficiencies, compliance with federal, state, and foundation rules and regulations, and collaborating with the CEO and Directors to secure financial resources that support the agency’s mission. He joined Fact Forward in June 2011 as the Director of Community Programs and Evaluation and oversaw all community-focused programming and the agency’s research and evaluation activities. The Department managed over 3 million in federal and private foundation funding to support youth-serving professionals in providing age-appropriate, medically accurate sexual health education to teens. Previously, Doug worked at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), where he coordinated the implementation of DHEC’s Health Services statewide performance management system and led quality improvement teams in process improvement projects. Doug also served six years active duty in the United States Army, and six years with the Texas Army National Guard. Doug has a Master of Public Health in Health Promotion and Education from the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Education from the University of North Texas.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Doug 0:00
I think the one thing about public health, there are so many opportunities and different opportunities in terms of setting and what you want to work on, you’re not put into a box necessarily. And this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your career. And that’s been the beauty of my work and career, where you start in one area, and you might progress in another area.

Sujani 0:28
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.

Good morning, Doug. And welcome to the public health spotlight podcast. It’s so wonderful to have you here. And I’m really excited to jump into your journey in public health.

Doug 0:57
Well, good morning, and thank you so much for the opportunity to share my public health experience. I’m really excited to be here.

Sujani 1:05
Yeah, one of the questions I start with, with almost all of my guests is kind of how they discovered public health. And you know, with that question, especially given kind of the history that you come with, I’m super curious to hear, you know, I think it was back in 1987, is when you decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health promotion, education. And, you know, to me, when I looked into this field of public health, and it was probably 20 years after, when you had entered it, people around me were like, what is that? What are you gonna go do with that degree? So curious to hear, you know, one, how did you even get in front of this degree? And like, how did they get in front of you? And also, what was public health, like, in the eyes of the public? And yeah, and people around you? Did they even know what you were gonna go do?

Doug 1:58
Well, it’s funny you say that, because I’m still not sure people know what I do. I suppose my wife was like, what do you do all day in your job. But really, the journey started when I. So I graduated from high school and at and joined the military joined the army in the Health Corps. And so I was around the medical field for six years. And during that time, my father had a heart attack at age 53. He fortunately, survived had triple bypass surgery. But I was very interested in this, the dynamic of, well, health care was there to help him recover, survive his heart attack. But then I got to thinking, Well wouldn’t have been better to begin with if he didn’t have his heart attack. And so I got started thinking more about wellness and prevention. And when I left the military, I had a brother that was living in Denton, Texas, which is where the University of North Texas is located. And when I was thinking about getting out where I would relocate, I looked to see what degree programs they had. And they had a big degree program in health promotion and education. And it was actually within the Department of Kinesiology. So it wasn’t at that time, like you say, a public health degree per se. Since that time, there’s been a proliferation of schools that have become accredited as public health school, even an undergraduate and I don’t know the full history of schools of public health or, you know, undergraduate programs. But I think at that time, there weren’t hardly any undergraduate programs. During that time that I was studying health promotion, and wellness. One of my professors had gotten his doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina School of Public Health, and during the journey of going to school learning about health and wellness. And that program was really focused on corporate wellness. So thinking about the Dallas area has large businesses, Frito, Lay and Pepsi and just all kinds of industry, and they had corporate wellness programs. And so you could do internships at those types of companies. And to be honest, I got to thinking about, I really don’t have much interest in trying to help people who have a good job, have, you know, access to resources, thinking about doing a fitness program or something, I’m not saying that’s not important. So, another of my professors was connected to HIV AIDS prevention, and had a contact at the Dallas County Health Department and HIV AIDS program. So I did a full semester internship at the Dallas County Health Department. So again, thinking about this was 92 and HIV AIDS was obviously very serious health condition, which of course, it still is. But back then, you know, it really was a death sentence. And to me, I felt like it was the public health issue of my generation, like, how are we going to stop the spread of HIV AIDS. And so, through the exposure that I had in that program, I realized when I graduated with an undergraduate degree in health promotion, education, that that really wasn’t gonna get me very far. And that I needed that master’s in public health. And through that professor that I’ve mentioned, I researched several schools of public health and South Carolina, they’ve just resonated with me, and they had graduate assistantship program, you could get in state tuition right away. So from a financial aspect, it worked well. And there was a professor there, Dr. Murray Benson, who was a leading expert in adolescent sexual reproductive health and teen pregnancy prevention. And so I was able to connect with him and do my internship and graduate assistantship with him.

Sujani 6:09
When you looked into that program, you know, at the University of North Texas Back in 87, what did you think you were going to be doing with this degree? Because you said you had, you know, the unfortunate event with your father who had a heart attack, and you were also around the medical side of after joining the army. And so, you know, what did you kind of envision your career to look like, and like, the reason that you are going to go get this degree?

Doug 6:34
Yeah, I really thought I’d be doing presentations. You know, going out and teaching people about nutrition or exercise, and being more of a direct connection with with people and you know, whether that was through designing a health and wellness program, whether it was individual or community or corporate based, and just, you know, seeing progress that people might make in their health habits. So helping people become healthier, but not thinking of it from an infectious disease perspective at all. I hadn’t even thought about really HIV AIDS or STI prevention or unintended teen pregnancies, that didn’t really come into my purview, if you will, until I did that internship at the Dallas County Health Department.

Sujani 7:27
Did any part of you say, a came, you know, into this degree to work on this, like chronic illness? I gotta find internships in that area and gotta build my experience there? Or were you more like, Okay, let me be flexible. Let me kind of see what opportunities exist in this field, and then I’ll decide later.

Doug 7:47
Yeah, I think for me, it was, like we did a field trip to, I believe it was Frito Lay. So you got to meet somebody, or health promotion person who was doing the work at that company. And she was sharing, you know, the things that that she did on a day to day basis. And, you know, the facilities were phenomenal. The resources that she had available to her to do nutrition programs and exercise programs was- was pretty phenomenal. And you just start to reflect, okay, is this something I would feel comfortable doing? Or would be good at? Or is this who I, and I don’t want this to sound negative? But is this the setting I want to be around for, for my career. And, again, I have nothing against corporate wellness programs at all. But there was just something that said, you know, what public health is more about helping people who may not have the resources. And, you know, I didn’t really know much about health disparities and those kinds of things at the time. But when I got connected to that program, the internship at the Dallas County Health Department, you know, we were working with or doing programs outreach with mental health sex with man with IV drug users. And a lot of times we were in the poor areas of dollar, trying to educate people who had difficult lives and circumstances. And there was just something about that, that resonated with me, and I thought it was awesome, to me more exciting.

Sujani 9:32

Doug 9:33
You know, the issue itself, the populations that we’re trying to reach, the need to address this public health epidemic. And, again, for those who, you know, aren’t as old as me, there was real fear in the United States and in the world about the spread of HIV, especially within you know, the heterosexual community. And that fear was something that motivated me. And I felt like, Okay, if I could do something about this, I would feel good about who I am as a person, but also as a career focus. And I think the one thing about public health, there are so many opportunities and different opportunities in terms of setting, and what you want to work on. That that’s the beauty that I have found public health, you’re not put into a box necessarily. And this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your career. And that’s been the beauty of my work and career. So you start in one area, and you might progress in another area.

Sujani 10:39
Do you recall your other colleagues or classmates, either in your bachelor’s program or master’s program, and what sort of career paths they were, like thinking about?

Doug 10:49
So when I was an undergraduate, I had spent six years in the Army. So I’ll say I was a little more mature than the other graduates. And to be honest, I would get a little frustrated with them, because they didn’t seem as focused as I was on getting through the degree program. And as excited, if you will, as I was about the program, I think they were really trying to find themselves, which is totally understandable.

Sujani 11:15
At that age, yeah.

Doug 11:16
Yeah, at that age. So again, what I loved about my decision to pursue a master’s degree, was the people that I was surrounded by who were also getting their degree in public health, I met such wonderful peers, several of whom have been Peace Corps, return volunteers. And just to hear their experience, at one point, I thought about doing a dual Peace Corps public health program, and just decided that that just wasn’t going to work for me. So the fact that I got to be around people who, who had been to Africa or you know, other parts of the world, in a Peace Corps, volunteer and learning about their experiences. And the other thing was, at the masters level, for the most part, people knew what they wanted to do. They wanted to be in public health, they were motivated, interesting people. And so I really felt a strong community, with my peers. And, you know, when you are in a good place with people you like being around and you’re talking about things you like to talk about, as it relates to your career path. It’s very exciting. And, you know, there’s still a few of those folks who I’m still very connected to, and they’ve had a very diverse career path. Some have gone on to the CDC and the World AIDS program, a colleague of mine now is running the HIV AIDS program in the Philippines. You know, now I’ve had colleagues who are starting to retire, but who have had great careers either at the CDC or state health department. So yeah, there was just this, just this very strong community, if you will, of people who, who had similar ideas about how are we going to solve the world’s problems from a public health perspective. And that was very exciting,

Sujani 13:08
And inspiring a bit?

Doug 13:09
Absolutely. And again, the professors, and what they have been doing and what they’re studying and researching, and how motivated they were for the work, that was all very inspiring.

Sujani 13:22
Yeah. So in in 95, you end up graduating with your Master’s of Public Health degree, again, in health promotion and education. And then- And then what did you do after that?

Doug 13:33
So again, you know, one of the things about the podcast is recommendations for new career, folks. It’s making connections. So during my master’s program, my advisor was very, say adamant. But he strongly recommended that I connect with the state, professional health organization for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, it’s called Scaper. And you can join as a student, so I did that, and got very involved with the Health Education Association. And then through that, I made a lot of connection. So these were professionals who were, you know, in the state who were doing work, whether it was through the Department of Education or the health department. And through that, I’ve made a connection with a woman who worked at the Department of Education. And she had a grant to the Centers for Disease Control. And it was a school health grant, but it had a focus on HIV and AIDS education. And so I was like, really interested. And I applied for it and was fortunate enough to get the position. So I moved from the Columbia area of South Carolina, to the eastern part of the state northeastern part of the state called it’s called the PD area. So my first day I was working for a local education agency, and trying to work with 16 public school districts, with their health instructors to increase their knowledge and skills around teaching HIV AIDS and sexual health. And, you know, as you might guess, at that time, and it still is very controversial about what gets taught in public schools around sexual health. So it was a very challenging job. It wasn’t like, oh, you know, people were accepting me, you know, right away, I did connect with a local health education instructor who kind of took me under his wing and said, Here’s the reality, you just came from two years of school or six years of school, that’s all great. But here’s how it works in the real world. And that was, again, something I needed to hear because it’s, it’s not like, you’re going to make an impact right away, or others are interested in what you’re interested in. So he was very helpful in grounding me, in expectations. And again, because obviously, we know public health, depending on what it is, can be very controversial. He helped guide me in how to communicate with other education or school districts on this topic, and to get some traction. Fortunately, as part of that job, there was a grant from the state health department that was focused on community based HIV prevention. And so that was my first experience writing for a large grant and partnered with the School of Public Health with a professor of epidemiology. And it was a very exciting opportunity, and we received the grant. And so I was able to learn community based as well hire staff, as my first supervisory opportunities. And we were working in the community doing a variety of HIV AIDS instruction and connecting with prisons, and just a whole variety of different organizations.

Sujani 17:01
That’s excellent work. Did you continue to do that before joining the South Carolina Department of Health because I know you joined there as an evaluation coordinator in 2002.

Doug 17:13
Yeah, so after that position in the PD area of the state, the state HIV coordinator position at the Department of Education came open. And that was in Colombia. And it was actually my boss also hired for that position. So when that position became open, I applied for that. And so I was then the HIV coordinator for the Department of Education. And so rather than working regionally, I was out working statewide. And the primary function of that job was to go around and train teachers in sexual health information and how to in terms of the state law that guides instruction on sexual and reproductive health, making sure that they were familiar with that. And what were some content that they could be teaching. At that time, in public health field of HIV and STI prevention, there was something that was emerging called evidence based interventions. So you were starting to have curricula that had gone through some rigorous evaluation and had some positive outcome related to sexual risk taking. And so that was just emerging at that time. And that really evolved because of the HIV AIDS epidemic, the federal government put lots of resources into, Hey, what are we going to do to support our citizenry, if you will, and understanding the risk of HIV AIDS. And so, you know, researchers from across the country put together curricula and programs, study them. And then several emerged, and then we were trained on those programs. And then we would go out and then train teachers or community based organizations that worked with young people on how to deliver those programs so that locally, then statewide, and then again, another opportunity, came up to be the evaluation coordinator for a statewide pain pregnancy prevention initiative. And did that for three years. But as in public health, the grant ran out, and they decided that they didn’t need to do the evaluation component. So that’s another aspect of public health that is very challenging, it continues to be challenging to this day, about how your position is funded, where the resources coming from, is it a state position, is it a full time funded position, is it a grant position? Those are very challenging and when that position was getting ready to end, I was had been married for, you know, like, one year, two years, my wife we were getting ready to have our first child And I’m getting ready to lose my job. So very stressful time. But once again, through connections that I had, I was able to apply for a position at the health department in our STD, HIV division, and this was the state health department and was fortunate enough to get that position as the evaluation coordinator.

Sujani 20:21
It’s great that you are able to work at the regional level and then state level and then I would assume that, you know, you might want to try out the federal level or something, but you end up you know, changing the sector that you’re working in and going to nonprofit, right? What was the drive at?

Doug 20:37
Well, you know, you mentioned, you know, maybe going federal, one of the things I did want to mention, in terms of my career path. It’s interesting, because in public health, many of us have the desire to work for the CDC. And really, I didn’t know about other federal agencies so much other than the CDC. And you’re always thinking, Oh, how can I get a job at the CDC? Or Oh, am I good enough to work for the premier public health agency? And so at some point, I just made a decision because of my family. So my wife’s from here, we started have children, this constant conflict that I had with myself around, Well, when am I going to go apply to work for the CDC, or when am I going to get that federal job, but realizing I would have to move, it would disrupt my entire family situation. And in the early years of working with the state health department, I just made a firm decision that my public health career was going to be in South Carolina. And so it really took the pressure off me to think about applying for or going for a federal position. And with that, it just really helped me focus on my public health career in South Carolina, and knowing that South Carolina has a lot of needs around public health, that I am going to invest my career here in South Carolina and be extremely satisfied with that. So. So how do you make a decision to go to nonprofit. And once again, it was it was a very difficult decision, but one that was presented to me to advance my career. And while I was at the Department of Health and Environmental Control, for about four or five years, I served in the STD HIV division. And then again, as a public health career, I had at that point, about 10 years, then primarily focused on HIV and AIDS, and STI. And I was like, You know what, I’m being pigeon holed here. I can stay in this division, probably for the rest of my career. But then I was like, Maybe I want to branch out and think about doing other things and not be so defined, if you will, by- by that career path. So there was within the health department, and a position that came open in the office of performance management. And this was an emerging, you know, in within public health agencies. That was the early phases of accreditation for public health departments, state and local public health department, and Performance Management, which included quality improvement, data collection, performance measure, development of performance measures. I was really excited about that, because it’s, it’s a way of evaluation, but it’s also more about, you know, how do we make improvements once we identify needs and issues. So I did that for four years and loved it. And then this opportunity through the nonprofit became available, and it was a leadership opportunity. So I was gonna go from, like a coordinator, consultant level at the health department to position was the chief-

Sujani 23:52

Doug 23:53
Yeah, exactly. Again, it’s one of those times in your career, I’ve got 16 years state government.

Sujani 24:00

Doug 24:01
When I leave, I’m not going to accumulate any more years towards my retirement. But again, internally, I was thinking, Okay, I’ve never had a real leadership position. And we all have our opinions of leaders, whatever organization we’re in, and I was like, you know, I need to step up, test myself, stretch myself, and see what I can do in that role. And so there was the CEO, the chief program officer, and then the Chief Operating Officer. So the agency had just received two large federal grants, and they were expanding from about 11 to about 30 employees. And so I was helping with the expansion of these two federal grants. So I’ve been there for 11 years, and we’ve had several iterations of federal grants and my role has changed slightly, here or there through those years and organization internal structure, but learning about nonprofit has been a great opportunity. And you start to realize that running a nonprofit is just like running a small business and learning about, you know, the many challenges that it takes to run an organization and knowing that you’re responsible for that has been very satisfying.

Sujani 25:20
You mentioned that that leadership opportunity was what kind of attracted you to move over to nonprofit. Was any part of you, I guess, nervous about that, that responsibility, especially, you know, going from state health, and then having to take on such a huge, huge role. And then also, as you mentioned, it is kind of like running a business. So I’m sure there’s like, the financial aspect of it, and the in the resources and things like that, that you’d have to manage?

Doug 25:50
Yeah, I was certainly nervous about it. Since I hadn’t had that type of role in my career, I felt like, and this was another thing I think about within the public health training and support that you get the challenges of, like you said, managing an organization, managing resources, managing large budgets, a lot of that does not you don’t get that in your Public Health Training, even in a master’s program. So you become a content expert. When I looked at the job description, I was like, Oh, I’ve done that, you know, I’ve done that I’ve done that. I know, programming, I know, evidence based programming, I know these things. But do I really know leadership? And, you know, admittedly, the Department of Health environmental control provided some leadership opportunities training. So that was certainly helpful. But when you until you step into it, you really don’t know what you’re getting ready to be responsible for, in a way that you had planned, maybe. So it was definitely a new experience. And like I said, I’ve been here 11 years, I’m learning every day, still, leadership, it’s very rewarding. But does anybody knows it’s also extremely challenging. And you want to feel like you’re always doing the right thing, but you’re not always making the right decisions. And so that kind of quality improvement mindset of okay, we didn’t quite get it right this time? How can we do better by our staff by the community that we work with? So every day is a new day, every day brings new challenges? But again, I feel like it’s very rewarding.

Sujani 27:36
Yeah. I think you alluded to this earlier on, it was kind of just this idea of, you know, in public health, the work we do, sometimes you don’t necessarily see the impact immediately. And that could feel quite frustrating. And just kind of seeing the amount of time that you’ve spent in this field, like you started off with HIV AIDS kind of education. And, and I think you spent almost 15 years or so in there. And then, you know, still kind of around that same area, you’re at fastforward, which focuses on reproductive health. I’m just kind of trying to understand, like, what sort of sentiments come up when you kind of like, reflect back and think, Okay, I’ve spent 25 years or so in this area of work. At what point did you have that frustration of I’m doing all of this work, but but I’m still seeing all of the burden in the community?

Doug 28:33
Well, if you think about the dynamic of HIV AIDS and where we are today with prevention-

Sujani 28:38

Doug 28:39
I can remember when the CDC, Dr. Frieden, who was the Director of the CDC, a few years ago, he had talked about this principle of trying to create systems where really people have to do very little to be healthy. So just a quick example would be, you know, create smoking ordinances, or, you know, increase taxes on- on cigarettes, tobacco products, so that there’s less of an incentive, if you will, to start smoking or, you know, to try -to try to stop smoking or, you know, with nutrition, put laws in place that reduce sodium, and, you know, all kinds of so, so HIV, you know, from a health educator, it was very health educator focused, it was behavioral health programs, training, high risk populations on how to avoid getting infected with HIV. Well, if you look at it, now, it’s become extremely biomedical. They really don’t even support the funding of educational programs if people want to prep or, you know, once they become infected, making sure they’re in treatment and getting on their medication. So there’s an aspect of health promotion there but it really evolved to more of a biomedical approach. So that’s been an interesting evolution. And it kind of feels like health promotion has been kind of put to the side of that, with that. So, you know, it’s not that it’s frustrating. But it’s, you know, a recognition that getting people to change behaviors is extremely hard. And that’s never changed. And I think in today’s society, it may be even harder, because of all the distractions that people have. I will say, like within teen pregnancy prevention, which is one of our focus areas, nationally, and in South Carolina, there have been 70% decline in teen birth. And in South Carolina, we’ve had similar declines, we’re up to like 73% declines in the highs of the early 90s. So, you know, as somebody who’s- knows about evaluation, you acknowledge that, well, it wasn’t our organization, necessarily, that created that large decline. But, you know, every year when the teen birth rates come out, and you see that they’ve gone down, you’re like, Oh, well, I should feel good about the work. And what we’re doing and, and the agency, you know, our focus is at least helping, but you know, your original question of the frustration, because at this state, we do not do do direct services as an agency, we’re more of a capacity building training, we read grant resources from federal state foundations, and then find local agencies who have direct access to young people. So genuinely, never in front of, of young people with this job. And I do have to step back every once in a while and say, Are we having the impact? Am I having the impact? My wife’s a second grade teacher, every day, she goes into that classroom, she’s making an impact.

Sujani 31:53

Doug 31:53
And she can see it.

Sujani 31:54

Doug 31:55
So it is abstract. And I, you know, if I could just use a quick, another part of my career to kind of show the difference. So when I was in the army, I was an x ray tech. And when you are an x ray tech, you have a patient, you take an x ray, and you see immediately your result, did I get a good picture, you know, oh, I got it, I didn’t quite get that, right, they moved, I gotta go back in and do it again, or you have a tough patient, and you get this great X ray, and you feel like you just made an immediate accomplishment. In my current job, it’s like, you know, when do I know that I had an immediate accomplishment on some outcome, distal outcome, if you will. And that is hard. And you just, you either just have to accept it, or going to drive me crazy. And so I do reflect on that. And it is important to do that reflection to make sure that you feel like the resources that you’re bringing into the state are helping young people, you just have to look at it, sometimes a little differently.

Sujani 32:58
You brought up a good point with, you know, the reports, whether it’s the evaluation report around the work that you do, or annual reports, and you do have to make an effort to connect your work to those numbers that come out annually, it can be extremely hard, especially if you’re not boots on the ground type of role. Yeah, I don’t know, if you have any other ways that you, you help yourself kind of see that you, you are a part of that, that number that’s that’s coming out to show that things are improving.

Doug 33:31
Yeah, I mean, another quick example. So we had a federal grant for five years. And we worked in three counties in South Carolina. And of course, the federal grant required us to collect data on the number of young people that receive services, evidence based programming. And through that project, we served over 34,000 young people in those three counties alone. And so you feel really good about the fact that, you know, our resources and all the training and technical assistance that we were providing to the school districts and other community partners, it certainly made- made a difference now, did we do some large evaluation of all those students who went through the program to see that, in fact, they change their behavior? No, because we were using the model of these are evidence based programs, they’ve shown positive outcomes from other research. So the idea there is, you know, replication of these programs can potentially have, you know, similar outcomes. And so, you know, we certainly feel good about that level of impact and reflecting on you know, other populations that that we’re working with, we have some programs where we work with teen moms, and try to support that population and you know, that can be very rewarding as well knowing that they have very important needs to help them through the potential challenging situation that they’re facing.

Sujani 35:02
I was reminded of, you know, when I was doing some work in the opioid overdose surveillance field, I would put out these reports, and I recall, my director would do a really good job, kind of just scanning the media or even, you know, presentations that were being done in the community where they would even use just one sentence from our 30 page report, and she do a good job to just screenshot that or take a picture and send it around. And I think that conversation with you is kind of reminding me how, at that moment, I was like, okay, cool. You know, one sentence made it but yeah, just thinking back that, you know, that was part of the evidence that kind of led to different changes.

Doug 35:41
Yeah, no, that’s, I like what he did there. And periodically, we’ll be quoted or our CEO will be interviewed. And, you know, we’ll share that with- with the staff. But I like what you’re saying there in terms of where are our messages being highlighted, and making sure that our team are aware of the impact.

Sujani 36:02
Yeah, absolutely. So Doug, you know, when you kind of reflect back and look back at this incredible journey that you’ve taken in your career, and then you look at the next generation of public health professionals, what’s some advice that comes to mind for you?

Doug 36:19
Well, you know, I think, if folks, you know, have the resources, I do think a master’s in public health is important. The ability to delve deeper into specific topics we do have here at South Carolina undergraduate degree in public health, and it’s very popular, and we have staff who have gone through that program, and they’re doing great. I think, from a career advancement, if there is that opportunity to get that master’s in public health, that would be important. It’s not required. But I do think that would be important, because of course, the refinement, whether you’re in health promotion, or an EPI, or biostatistics or environmental science, whatever that specific area of interest, it does help to create a positive and I think environment for connecting with others who are interested in the same areas that you are and the ability to learn from others. And then just learning about what are the opportunities that are available with a master’s in public health. So I just think, you know, having that motivation to do good, if you will, that’s the thing about working in public health, people who are in this field, want to do work that’s helping others. And when you’re in helping profession, it’s great to be around similar minded people. So showing that passion for helping others is certainly important. And I think, you know, from a career path, you know, understanding that even if you get a Master’s, you’re not going to learn everything that you need to know. So getting engaged with, like the American Public Health Association, or your local societies of public health, not thinking that after I’ve got my master’s, I don’t need to do anything else. Staying engaged is extremely, I think, important.

Sujani 38:23
So when you look ahead, what’s exciting for you? And what are some goals that you’re- you’re focused on?

Doug 38:30
Well, I recently did have a job change within the agency. And so I’m the Director of Operations and finance. And while you know, I wasn’t officially trained in these two areas. As a leader in the organization for the last 11 years, I’ve been involved with aspects of operations and finance, for sure. But now that I’m overseeing and managing it, I’m excited to learn more about those aspects of the organization just completed a certificate program from the University of Miami, that is more around administration, and management, public health programs. So I acknowledged that even after 25-30 years, I still have plenty to learn. And I’m excited for that opportunity. And with this change, I have new direct reports, folks I’ve worked with but not in this capacity. So you know, getting to learn what they do, in a deeper level, greater appreciation for what really happens behind the scenes, you know, so even from an operations finance, those are kind of behind the scenes, if you will, and what can we do to be create efficient processes so that the folks who are doing the programming have what they need to be successful. So I’m excited for that journey, and looking forward to it over the next several years.

Sujani 40:00
Well, congratulations on- on that new opportunity. And, yeah no, it’s great to hear that, you know, you’re still going back to learn new concepts, if you will. And just great to see that, you know, someone with that public health background is now able to use all of that knowledge to now lead kind of like operations and finances. So I think it just goes to show that, you know, going back to your, your initial point of just the beauty of the public health career is that you can mold it to your interest and where you are in your life.

Doug 40:32
Yeah, that is so true. And I, that’s been the best part of my career. There’s never a dull day. There’s never been a dull day. And I do want to take the opportunity to thank all of the people who’ve been involved in public health with the COVID outbreak. I mean, they have done so much in really around the world. But if you think about the United States, and the many challenges that we face.

Sujani 40:57
Oh, yeah.

Doug 40:58
And I was not directly involved with that we have a small grant now that’s promoting vaccines, and pushing out messages to promote vaccination. But, you know, those who are on the front line doing this work, the stress level, we know the frustration that the public has had, and some of the dynamics that have occurred, I just want to take that opportunity to thank the 1000s of public health officials who stood up and took on a pandemic that was very challenging, remains challenging, and willing to step up. And in that way, it’s extremely important for for our own health of our community and society in general.

Sujani 41:41
Oh, yeah. Incredible work, I think just around the world. And yeah, I don’t know. I think we did. We did well, even though there’s tons of criticism out there.

Doug 41:50

Sujani 41:51
Yeah. Well, Doug, thank you so much for joining me on- on a podcast and just sharing your journey with us. And I’m sure it’s going to leave many of our listeners inspired and just reflect on their own career paths.

Doug 42:05
Well, this has been really fun. And I just appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of experience that I’ve had in my public health career.

Sujani 42:15
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career Club.


About the Show

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

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

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