7: Equity and Diversity Initiatives

Dr. Joe Smyser, CEO of The Public Good Projects, discusses the hard work required to manage vaccine misinformation; Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge talks about her new job as ASTHO’s senior vice president of health equity and diversity initiatives;...

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Dr. Joe Smyser, CEO of The Public Good Projects, discusses the hard work required to manage vaccine misinformation; Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge talks about her new job as ASTHO’s senior vice president of health equity and diversity initiatives; and Avia Mason, ASTHO’s Vice President of Learning Strategy, highlights the “Insights and Inspiration” speaker series that kicks off this afternoon.     

ASTHO welcomes new senior vice president of health equity and diversity initiatives

Insights and Inspiration: Monthly conversations for public health leaders in the era of COVID-19

2021 SHIEC Annual Conference webpage

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, August 18th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson with today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


As the Delta variant surges, so does vaccine misinformation on social media channels and in front yards across America.

Dr. Joe Smyser, CEO of The Public Good Projects, says the amount of work required to address bad information about vaccines and other public health measures is unprecedented.


It requires a dramatic restructuring of the way public health functions in this country. This is not the legacy that we had going into the pandemic.

Our legacy was a very top down, listen to the experts—the CDC talks to state health departments, state health departments talk to you—and there's not a lot of other people involved in communicating health.

There's a lot that is brand new that is happening simultaneously right now.


Smyser joins ASTHO president Dr. Nirav Shah in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, coming soon everywhere you stream audio.

Search "Public Health Review" on your favorite music or podcast app, and subscribe to the show so you won't miss it when it's released.


Last week, we told you about ASTHO's new senior vice president of health equity and diversity initiatives, Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge.

Today, we talk with her about her plans for the new role. It's the morning conversation.

You've done so much to advance the health of communities already in your career.

How do you hope to continue that work in this new position?


Well, first, I just thank ASTHO for the opportunity to join the team.

As a physician, we learn to affect the health of one person at a time. But when we move into the public health realm, we have the opportunity to help multiple communities at one time. So, I hope to be able to continue to expand that from the local community to communities all over the country.


In the ASTHO news release announcing your appointment, you say there's a lot of work to do to address disparities and inequities exposed by the pandemic.

What's your plan for the first 90 days on the job?


I have a way that I tend to work, and the first step is always to listen and to really understand the definition that we're working with around equity from the internal and external.

Step two is to learn, and that means to take a really deep dive into what has already been put in place, the foundations that have been set.

And then step three is the act, and that's around consensus building to identify common grounds as a starting point—I call that organizational ethos. And, once that is done, then it's about working through the differences in a way where everyone has a voice and there is respect for differences. And with that, formalizing a plan that moves the organization and its member states and territories in a direction that has a unified goal.

And we understand that unified goals—there are many different ways, many different roads, that can be taken to get to that goal. And every community, every state, every territory is different. But as long as we understand the ultimate goal and agree on that, then working through the plans about how we get there is more of something that happens on an individual basis from the state.

There is no one size fits all. We're a diverse country, we're diverse area, but as long as we agree on the ultimate goal, then we can work on the steps to get there together.


Finally, what do you look forward to the most out of this new assignment?


Well, first and foremost is having the opportunity, the honor, to join this just amazing team of professionals and being able to pull the sleeves up and doing the hard work that hopefully will result in substantive change around health for everybody—because, of course, when we talk about equity, we're talking about everyone, not any particular segment of the community, but everybody.

So, having that ability to have that kind of influence at that kind of level is something that is very exciting and very humbling.



ASTHO kicks off its Insights and Inspiration series this afternoon at 4:00 PM Eastern time. It's your chance to hear from retired Lieutenant General Nadja West, the first African American Army Surgeon General.

Avia Mason is ASTHO's vice president of learning strategy.


It is in these times of uncertainty and fear that we need the steady hand of public health to ensure necessities are met.

General West speaks of the essential role of public health in both military and civilian life. She provides encouragement for public health practitioners to stick with it and not give up, even when the sharks are circling, because we are working for the greater good of our communities and our country.


Registration for the General's presentation, titled "Leading through Uncertainty," is free to anyone listening right now.

Sign up using the link in today's show notes.


Finally, members of ASTHO's population health and innovation public health data modernization team are on a panel this week at the Strategic Health Information Exchange Conference. They're talking about increasing data sharing between health information exchanges and immunization information systems to improve response to disasters and pandemics.

We'll follow their work and keep you updated.


Don't forget, you can find links to everything we've talked about today in the show notes.

Also, remember to follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listen on Alexa.

And, if you have a minute, please take time to share our show with a colleague.


Join us tomorrow for more ASTHO news and information, and a morning conversation with Dr. Anne Zink, ASTHO's president-elect and Alaska's chief medical officer, about back-to-school mask and vaccine, messaging.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Joe Smyser PhD

CEO, Public Good Projects

Avia Mason

Vice President of Learning Strategy, ASTHO

Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge MD MPH

Senior Vice President, Health Equity and Diversity Initiatives, ASTHO