Recently, @Adam T Hughes from Cornell University asked me to join him and their Public Health Program Work Team (PWT) in a quarterly meeting to discuss how Mississippi State University Extension is connecting with public health partners here. That gave me reason to take a step back and consider what approaches have led to our success in health-related work.
These are some of the things I shared with them that undergird my thinking and efforts in this area.
1. Extension has a history of work around public health that is just recently being recognized as public health. This is largely in the FCS space—food safety, nutrition, health family development, financial well-being, positive/ healthy home environments, and more… and increasingly what we’ve done in community resource development and have led on in that space is being “owned” by public health as policy, systems, and environment work. We have to draw these connections for our partners in public health so they understand we are not strangers in their land-- but that the work of "little 'p'" public health is for all of us.
2. We’re looking to serve as partners—not out to usurp the work of formal, governmental public health… we are here to complement and do what we do well so they can excel at what they do well.
3. One of the ways we enhance- and not usurp traditional public health- is in serving as “the front door of the university” for the communities we serve. We give them access to a wealth of expertise via our faculty. The flip side of the coin is that we are the backdoor of the university, “brokering access” for faculty to communities around our states…. Essentially, one of the key roles of Extension is being a bridge from community to university and vice versa.
4. Most importantly, EVERY effective partnership is built on trust. Get to know your (traditional) public health colleagues locally, regionally and at the state level as colleagues and professional friends. … go to each others’ conferences, serve on each others' coalitions, get together casually just to catch up, etc.
One example of this- when I first started my role at MSU in 2014, I began attending our state’s public health association (MPHA) meetings. Because of the relationships I built there two key things happened- a) new partners in the state department of health helped me expand our healthy homes program across the state; and that became my early-career "bread and butter." then b) because of my relationships in MPHA, I was ultimately the first person in the organization’s 90 years of history from outside the state department of health to serve as president, which is one of the greatest honors of my career so far. Relationships matter!
5. Finally- if you have opportunities to pursue formal training in public health-- anything from short seminars to formal credentials, do it! At a minimum, it equips you with some of the vocabulary that helps you connect with public health colleagues; and best case, you gain new knowledge and skills.
What are some things you are thinking about related to Extension's role in public health? And how are you connecting with public health partners?