Public health leadership skills the focus at student-run event

People discussing at the Public Health Leadership Conference
Students in an interactive workshop at the Public Heath Leadership conference

December 21, 2018 – Crucial leadership skills for public health—from effective communication to team conflict to burnout—were the focus of a December 8, 2018 conference organized by students at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The event drew more than 100 participants and featured a variety of interactive workshops. The keynote speaker was Sheila Davis, chief nursing officer at Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with governments and medical and academic institutions to bring the benefits of medical science to those most in need.

The conference was organized by some 50 students who participated during the fall semester in Harvard Chan School’s Public Health Leadership Lab, a program that offers leadership lessons through a series of workshops, retreats, and self-assessments. Students in the program are required to work on a final project. This semester, for the first time, their project was organizing a conference for their fellow students to share what they’d learned in the Leadership Lab, according to Cathy Tso, who serves as administrator to the Lab in Harvard Chan’s Office of Education.

One of the student organizers, Angel Rosario, MPH ’18, said that planning the half-day event gave him the chance to put into practice some of the skills he’d gained in the Leadership Lab over the course of the semester, in areas such as leadership and followership, conflict resolution, and working in teams. “Helping plan the conference was a valuable experiential learning opportunity,” he said.

Workshops at the conference covered a range of topics, including self-awareness, diversity and inclusion, decision-making and communication, self-care and wellness, and team engagement.

Mary Peeler, MPH ’19, said she particularly appreciated participating in a breakout group on ethical frameworks for decision-making. If she faces an ethical dilemma in the workplace in the future, tackling it with the help of a decision model will be much more helpful than simply relying on gut feelings, she said. “That’s a much more persuasive argument than saying something like ‘That felt bad to me.’”

Sheila Davis of Partners in Health was the keynote speaker

Peeler said it was inspiring to hear Davis, the keynote speaker, discuss her leadership experiences—such as how she listens to nurses’ concerns and then ensures that those concerns are voiced at the highest levels. “As someone who’s been granted access to power, she was really focused on brokering power for other people,” said Peeler.

Fernando Bruno, MPH ’20, a student in Harvard Chan’s part-time online, on-campus epidemiology program, said he was interested in the conference because leadership skills will help him in his current role as an assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York and for possible future leadership positions in public health. He found the workshop on burnout especially helpful, given his multiple roles as faculty member, Harvard Chan student, and father.

“Trying to juggle all those things can be quite challenging at times,” said Bruno. “I thought the workshop would teach me how to be better at time management. But it was nothing like that—instead, it focused on five different ways of doing meditation. That session was so revealing to me, because it showed me that meditation may be what you need to be a great leader because you need more ‘me’ time.”

Karen Feldscher

Photos courtesy Cathy Tso