As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Maternal and Child Health National Leadership Retreat this summer. The theme was “Leadership, Legacy, and Community” and throughout the three-day retreat, it became very clear how this truly prospers. There was an intentional focus on intergenerational connections, especially in learning from one another in our leadership and practice, discussing the current issues we face in government, in academia, and in the field, and from this, passing down the torch of the maternal and child health profession—with integrity, enthusiasm, and sincere trust.
This was extremely unique and unlike any other conference, workshop, or retreat I had been to before. The theme of community also took shape, not only in the daytime group activities, but in the evening social gatherings. I remember sitting around a small wooden table with key MCH leaders (such as Dr. Arden Handler and Amy Fine) eating refreshments and hearing invigorating stories, over and over, about their past successes in public health policy and even how they happily landed themselves in MCH leadership. This was inspiring to me and also a helpful guide, in knowing that I’m only beginning this journey.
Along with this, the retreat had a focus on building a “Community of Practice” and emphasized collaboration and genuine exchange across the “different lands,” as we called it, within MCH work (i.e. government officials; faculty and staff in academia; students in academia; practitioners in the field). Everyone had something to contribute to the overall community and would help to improve the health and wellbeing of maternal and child health populations, just in a variety of ways.
In conjunction with building a community of practice, there was a particular focus on discussing the life-course perspective throughout the seminars. I think it was valuable to tie in this perspective because we are at a pivotal moment in maternal and child health—with rising health care costs, increasing health disparities, and overwhelming amounts of chronic disease. Through discussions of this perspective, it became obvious that this could help frame our necessity to expand services, adjust programming to critical time periods throughout the life-course, and thus enhance the health potential of communities throughout the U.S. and improve overall health equity.
One of my favorite lectures during the retreat was by Michael Fraser (Executive Director of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs). With humor and charm, he spoke quite clearly about the need for us, as public health leaders, to advocate for MCH populations within our daily work. Especially in a time of budget-cuts and high unemployment, we each have a part to play in the policy-making process. Fraser described advocacy as a combination of education and “urging action.” It wasn’t something scary, overwhelming, or just what the policymakers do. It is within our leadership competencies and our public heath agenda. It requires a deliberate investment with our time, our money, and our voices.
Overall, the retreat was a wonderful experience for me as a graduate student still in training. It helped me to reflect on my own leadership skills and how I can contribute to the overall success and future of maternal and child health field.
by Jessica Barnes, 2nd Year MCH-MPH Student
If you would like to view pictures from the 2011 retreat click here.