135: Women in Public Health

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, reflects on International Women’s Day celebrated this week; Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine is part of a panel discussion later today to mark Women’s...

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Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, reflects on International Women’s Day celebrated this week; Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine is part of a panel discussion later today to mark Women’s History Month; and Brian Lentes, ASTHO’s Senior Director of Public Health Infrastructure, says infrastructure is defined many ways and can include the administrative and financial capabilities of an organization.

HHS Channel 1 Live Streaming: Conversation with HHS Women Leaders to Celebrate Women’s History

ASTHO Resource: Public Health Infrastructure and Systems Improvement

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday March 10, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


March is Women's History Month, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women everywhere. It's also a time to recognize International Women's Day—that was Tuesday. Earlier this week, we caught up with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Health. We get her thoughts on the day and her advice for her female colleagues as she prepares to leave her position. It's our morning conversation.

We celebrated International Women's Day this week. What does a day like this mean to you?


International Women's Day is an exciting day to celebrate all of the achievements of women across the world, and in so many sectors of society, and just to applaud the great achievements.

But it's also an opportunity to agitate for the achievements that we haven't seen, some of the achievements that we maybe have not seen because of cultural or structural or policy-based barriers that have been set in the way of women achieving these additional feats.

And so, trying to make sure that we don't put women behind the starting blocks is also an important part of International Women's Day.


You've certainly had many achievements in your career to date, more to come: the governor credits you with saving thousands of lives in your state during the pandemic; you've been called a role model for young Black girls. What do you think of when you hear these things being said about you?


You know, I'm so humbled by what I've been able to achieve with the incredible team at the state health agency, what we've been able to accomplish. I have heard from hundreds of Black women that, you know, they always pulled their kids in to watch me, so I'm humbled by that and excited to serve as a role model for young girls coming up—young girls of color, Black girls.

But I also want people's sons and their brothers to take note of strong women as well, to be reminded that women can be their counterparts in every single sector of life, and that there is no reason to think that you can't have a strong, educated woman as part of the team, leading the team, forming the backbone of all of our—every sector of our society.


You'll be leaving your position in Illinois in just a matter of days. What advice or wisdom do you have for other women in public health leadership roles around the nation?


You know, when we look at IDPH, for example, here in Illinois, you know, women make up over 50% of the agency. So, we are already controlling the health of our states. And so, I would just encourage women to make sure that—as those opportunities to lead, to be at the forefront of that—we would stand up, that we would rise up. We would take that opportunity to be, you know, not just the worker bee, but that bold, visionary thought leader to help craft the policies and the strategies of today, tomorrow, and the future.



Assistant secretary for health, Admiral Rachel Levine, is part of a panel discussion later today to mark Women's History Month. Levine, an ASTHO alum, will be joined by others in the Department of Health and Human Services. The panelists will highlight the department's programs and initiatives to promote the health and wellbeing of women across the United States.

The online event begins at 3:30 pm Eastern time today. You can watch using the link in the show notes.


Finally today, when you hear the term public health infrastructure, what comes to mind? According to ASTHO's Brian Lentes, it can be a reference to many things, including the administrative and financial capabilities of an organization.


You've seen state agencies, you know, pursue federal dollars, for example, to improve their public health infrastructure.

But the, you know, the increase in public health dollars that have become available can be a challenge sometimes on the spending and really the development of programs and just having the resources to manage those funds. Procuring, you know, sub-recipients, contractors, partners really to conduct work within the community—it becomes a challenge just because of the tremendous amount of dollars that may be available and lacking resources, really a number of resources, across health agencies to do those internal processes.


Lentes says ASTHO can provide members the tools they need to help them improve their processes, including one-on-one technical assistance, educational sessions, and microlearning opportunities. You can learn more using the link in the show notes.


Before we go, just a reminder to leave us a rating and a review. We value the feedback and it helps raise our profile, making it easier for others to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you'll never miss a single report. You can do both on the channel you're listening to right now.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Brian Lentes MPA

Senior Director, Public Health Infrastructure, ASTHO

Ngozi Ezike MD

Director, Illinois Department of Public Health