261: ASTHO’s Outgoing President

Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO’s Outgoing Board President, reflects on his time leading the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic; ASTHO has a new webinar series to help you prepare for a public health emergency; and make sure you are among the first to...


Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO’s Outgoing Board President, reflects on his time leading the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic; ASTHO has a new webinar series to help you prepare for a public health emergency; and make sure you are among the first to know what’s going on in Washington D.C. and in state capitols across the nation with ASTHO public health legislative alerts.

ASTHO Webpage: National Preparedness Month Webinar Series

ASTHO Webpage: Newsletters

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Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, September 13th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson. Now today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

 

NIRAV SHAH:

It's one thing to be the ASTHO president during times where there is not a pandemic. But when there's a global pandemic and public health is called upon to do yeoman's work every single day, and we are under the spotlight for everything we do—to be able to communicate the needs of state health Officials and to represent the work that we do publicly has been quite the honor.

JOHNSON:

Dr. Nirav Shah wrapping up an extended term as ASTHO board president today reflects on his time leading the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SHAH:

It was unfortunately commonplace for states to get the short end of the stick when it came time to figuring out what was happening and how to make it work. One of the things that Mike Fraser and the ASTHO team and I, that I'm proud of, that we were able to do, was to really secure a seat at the table to represent state public health. And securing that seat at the table allowed us to communicate the value of state public health both to federal policy makers as well as in the media.

JOHNSON:

Shah says he met his goal to raise ASTHO's profile during his tenure.

SHAH:

We were able to position ASTHO as the de-facto place to go for insight, commentary, and analysis on public health practice. Certainly the U.S. CDC has a role there at the federal level, and obviously academia plays a role at the academic level, but my goal was to position ASTHO as the go-to voice for public health practice when journalists and others wanted to know how things are translated from theory to practice. My goal was to make ASTHO the first call that they made, and based on the data that we have around media mentions, interviews, conference presentations, et cetera, I'm really proud of the work that we've done toward making that goal real.

JOHNSON:

His colleague, Dr. Anne Zink of Alaska, becomes president today. At the White House, presidents leave letters for their successors. We ask Dr. Shah what he'd put in his letter to Dr. Zink.

SHAH:

In one level, ASTHO represents public health. But more concretely, we represent state public health. And states, as we now know, have a diversity of views on topics. And so, there were numerous occasions where I wanted to get out in front with a pretty aggressive statement on something. But when you take a step back, you realize, well, doing so potentially risks upsetting or alienating some of our members. And we are fundamentally a membership-driven organization.

And so, what I think about a particular topic is not nearly as important as what the membership thinks about a particular topic. And there were numerous occasions as a result where, even though I might have personally wanted to take a more strident stance on something, we dialed it back because we represent all of our members, not just some.

JOHNSON:

Speaking of dialing, Shah says member phone calls are tops among his most rewarding experiences while in the president's chair.

SHAH:

I love nothing more than a call, a meeting that comes together. Everyone is engaged, the dialogue is fast, questions are being asked, answers are being heard. There's pushback, there's debate, there's disagreement. And we've had a number of those and they don't happen by accident. A good productive spirited debate happens because you have the right people at the time and you provide room and opportunity for that debate to happen. You encourage diverse viewpoints.

And we've had so many calls like that, where I think SHOs came in thinking one thing but, after hearing their colleagues debate it, maybe left with a different view. That's happened numerous times, initially on COVID, now monkeypox. And those are, bar none, my favorite and most rewarding experiences.

JOHNSON:

Tomorrow, Dr. Anne Zink looks ahead to her term as ASTHO president. That conversation is available starting at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday.

 

A few other notes before we go.

 

ASTHO has a new webinar series to help you prepare for a public health emergency. The first event about preparing to respond to a biological threat is set for this Thursday, September 15th. Two others are planned for later in September as part of ASTHO's National Preparedness Month recognition. You can sign up for the webinars using the link in the show notes.

 

Finally today, get ASTHO public health Legislative Alerts as they happen. Be among the first to know what's going on in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols across the nation. Sign up now using the link in the show notes.

 

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.

Nirav Shah MD JD

Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; President of ASTHO