A Year at the de Beaumont Foundation: Q&A with Public Health Fellow Lizzie Corcoran

June 22, 2018

Lizzie Corcoran with leaders of the de Beaumont Foundation, CityHealth, and Kaiser Permanente

This month marks the end of Lizzie Corcoran’s one-year fellowship with the de Beaumont Foundation, and she has played an important role in our work, including leadership in shaping new initiatives. The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, which sponsored her fellowship, interviewed her about her experience. This Q&A was first published on www.aspph.org.

ASPPH offers a variety of fellowship opportunities for recent graduates of ASPPH-member, CEPH-accredited graduate schools and programs of public health. The fellowships provide practice-based, mentored training that advance the skills and capacity of early-career public health professionals. ASPPH periodically highlights the work of our fellows and recently interviewed ASPPH Public Health Philanthropy Fellow, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Corcoran (Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice), who will complete her one-year fellowship this month. As her fellowship comes to an end, ASPPH asked Ms. Corcoran to reflect on her fellowship experience and how it has advanced her career in public health. Here is what she had to say.

ASPPH: What were your expectations as you started the ASPPH Public Health Philanthropy Fellowship Program?

Ms. Corcoran: When I came to the de Beaumont Foundation on the first day of my fellowship, I suspected I would work hard, write, learn, and explore the role of philanthropy in public health. I had no idea I would develop numerous and diverse mentors from across the field of public health, discover a sincere passion for the public health workforce, speak out on the workforce from the new graduate perspective, manage a textbook, or stick around to help develop the policies, partnerships, and tools that the de Beaumont Foundation invests in. This time of year, it’s enlightening for me to look back and reflect on the learning moments from my time as a fellow and point to the lessons and progress.

ASPPH: What does the de Beaumont Foundation do? What did you focus on during your fellowship?

Ms. Corcoran: The de Beaumont Foundation is dedicated to transforming the practice of public health through tools, policy, and partnerships. Surprised at how little my formal training prepared me to understand public health agencies, I positioned myself to learn from and about health departments. I shadowed the Baltimore City Health Department and witnessed the day to day work of health departments, including observing a needle exchange van, going on restaurant inspections, and listening to a local policy conversations. The Big Cities Health Coalition, where health commissioners from the 30 largest cities gathered to share, challenge, and work together, was one of my favorite groups to learn from. Through soaking up their experiences and perspectives, I gained enormous insight on what it takes to lead a health department that serves hundreds of thousands of people and lead on complex issues like violence and racial inequality. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Colleen Bridger, the health commissioner from San Antonio, who helped me imagine more possibilities for the path and skills of a health commissioner without medical training.

ASPPH: What did you learn or take away from these experiences?

Ms. Corcoran: These experiences, and many more, grew my passion for not just the field of public health, but the people who comprise its workforce. I still have a lot to learn about practicing in health agencies and maybe someday I will join one. However, there are a few concrete lessons I know I will bring with me wherever I go.

Health departments must learn to engage in cross sector partnerships and collaborations. Through my work managing the Practical Playbook textbook and learning directly from health department leaders, it is clear that improving the social determinants of health can no longer be the sole responsibility of health agencies. Health departments must share the burden of creating healthy social and physical environments with other sectors beyond their walls.

Health departments must learn to affect policy. Local, health-promoting policies, such as the ones promoted by CityHealth, are upstream, sustainable tools to improve complex health issues. Policies that enforce and legislate healthy housing, healthy food procurement, safe and accessible transportation, and clean indoor and outdoor air, are the new work of health departments in the 21st century. Programs and services are necessary, but not sufficient without the policies that can make an entire population safer, healthier, and more productive.

Health departments must learn to communicate. Public health is valuable because we are the invisible workers that make communities livable, safe, clean, and productive. Communicating that value to lay people, potential workers, students, and elected officials is crucial, not just for funding. The conversation around health is shifting from the individual experience to a communal good. Health systems, business, and other nontraditional allies are joining the fight for healthy communities. Public health must contribute meaningfully to this conversation, locally and nationally, in order to find partners and progress towards healthy people.

At the de Beaumont Foundation, we envision a workforce that uses policy as a lever, communicates effectively, builds multi-sector collaborations, and improves the social determinants of health. I am thrilled to join a philanthropy that is taking risks and advancing the daily practice of turning this vision into reality.

ASPPH: What really stands out to you as you reflect back on your fellowship year?

Ms. Corcoran: I started writing this year by leaning on my fresh MPH degree and new graduate perspective. This perspective quickly developed into the soap box of a young public health professional, brand new to the workforce. There is a widening disconnect between Millennials and health agencies, culminating in a workforce that has great difficulty recruiting, retaining, and training young new workers to continue the essential work of health agencies. When I think about the call to action of Public Health 3.0 and the Chief Health Strategist, I see where the skills of young people, such as passionate advocacy, systems change, and innovation and creative technology solutions, advancing these visions. The authentic engagement and passage of generational public health knowledge to the youngest generation of workers can bolster the workforce and advance the practice of public health. To be able to write and speak from the young perspective and garner genuine interest was the best part of the fellowship experience, one I am extremely grateful for!

ASPPH: What was the effect of the Fellowship on your public health career in a nutshell?

Ms. Corcoran: When I think about the effect the ASPPH Public Health Philanthropy Fellowship has had on my career, I think of the incredible public health leaders I have met this year, the innovative public health institutions I have learned from, and the wonderful support I was granted to try new things, manage a project, write, and chase ideas. Giving young professionals opportunities like the ones I have had this year can integrate and energize a new generation of public health workers to join and – more importantly – change the field of public health for the better.