Friday, July 21, 2017
The Matriarchs of Public Health
At my current job, I work with an amazing group of (mostly) women, and our department head is another seen-it-all-done-it-all bastion of public health. She has been doing what she does since I've been alive (seriously-- she's been in her position since 1980 and will be retiring to a per diem status in October). I started my job 3 weeks ago and probably since before I started she has been working on writing grants for future projects. Grant writing is a huge undertaking and as she explained her process to us, she said, without a shred of vaingloriousness, that she is granted nearly every grant she applies for (which is good news for my department and my job security). She knows everyone in the state, she has experiences and stories to share. She has shaped public health, disease prevention, and the spread of evidence-based health education in central Maine.
These two women remind me so much of each other, because they share so many of the same attributes: their calm demeanor, their shrewd, innovative thinking, and their soothing voices. These women that I look up to are the matriarchs of public health. When I think of leaders in public health, I don't think of men leading the way (although there have been amazing male contributors to the public health world and I've had the pleasure to learn from some very gifted scholars) I think of these wizened, caring women who have paved the way, who fight for the health and wellness of everyone in their communities, who put their nose to the grindstone to apply for grants to ensure that resources can be generated, studies performed, and health services delivered.
I'm 37, and I can't even imagine getting to that point, to that level of achievement. I admire these women so much and it saddens me that I am only now encountering them in the twilight of their careers as they prepare to retire and pass the torch to another generation. These are women who have been in public health for decades, have witnessed social change, policy change, changes in attitude toward health and healthcare delivery. These matriarchs of public health have been the backbone for people like me, entering the industry. They're grassroots people, people I can relate to, when so many of the women in my program I couldn't relate to at all. They have built the foundations of what I do, and I will forever admire and be grateful for them paving the way.