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Health care community liaison: How I got my job and where I'm going

What education and training are required to become a health care community liaison? In this career profile, Teresa talks about the importance of mentors, her path into public health, and opportunities for advancement in her field. She also opens up about her experience navigating education and the workforce as someone with a disability. 

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Video transcript

I was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, OI for short. But basically it is a brittle bone disease that causes my bones to be extremely fragile. And of course, I do not walk I use a power wheelchair to help me with get around and be independent. My independence portion of my life, kind of learning how to be independent as somebody with a disability, was due to a mentor, a random one that I met in the community while shopping. She just happened to have the same disability as me, very rare, and she was also 13 years older than me. And so she had gone through so many of the things that I wanted to go through. So at the time when I met her I was 10, and she had already almost finished college, she had a job lined up, she was driving, she was living on her own. And so that mentor really really helped build my skills, and build my confidence to be my own person as somebody with a disability. College was a reality I would say because of her, and everything else kind of just fell into place, and so she was a big part of my life. I have another mentor who happens to be my previous doctor. We are now colleagues now, but she kind of saw potential in me when I was her patient as a child. So we had a lot of separate chats outside of my doctor's appointments on what my career path was, what I wanted to do. I did know that I wanted to go in healthcare. And, so, in undergraduate I studied physiology. Which is a little bit more hard science, it is less social science, but it was fascinating. It helped me meet all my requirements and help me gain some skills in college that I think are irreplaceable. I decided to take some time off after undergraduate studies and kind of pursue the advocacy piece of my life that I felt like I hadn't really paid attention to while I was in school. So. those two years were dedicated to learning about what are the barriers that people with disabilities face, and what is my role in that and what skills do I still need to be able to serve that population. Public Health came into my horizon, and I think at that point I was so dedicated to healthcare, so dedicated to serving people that it was the right path for me. So, I pursued my Master of Public Health. It is a two-year degree program that kind of teaches you the minute details on how to run a public health program, how to develop one, how to write a grant, and get an idea that you have funded, what does that look like. It teaches you skills that are needed, again some of the skills that are needed within my job I would contribute to that straight to my masters education. And so, stakeholder engagement, how do you engage people in your community in beneficial way that would help inform your program, inform your job and your position. I received this job 3 months after graduating from the master's program. I actually was looking for working more with children and the Pediatric population. Again, just because of my previous experience. And so, I had applied to health programs that served kids with disabilities, that kind of thing, And I knew my manager for this current program, I knew him from a past job. And so he asked if I graduated yet and that if I was open to working in healthcare policy, and I applied. I had a telephone interview first, and then I came in for an in-person interview, and it was a panel of different community stakeholders who interacted with the program. So a previous nursing home resident, a council member, and I believe a provider, and then of course my manager. And so it was pretty daunting these people were the experts of the program and they knew who they wanted to hire. And so I had to meet that and it was very, very intimidating for me. But I am really happy I made the cut, and I am honored, and again, the mission of this program speaks to everything I believe in. The growth opportunities can really go in so many directions with public health. I think the generic path is you are a program administrator, which is who I am basically, and then you manage a program at some point in your career, and then you move on to either directing that program, directing the bigger branch, or I see a lot of colleagues in my field kind of starting their own thing with a grant opportunity, which is really cool. If somebody is interested in it similar to mine, I would suggest learning everything there is about it. For example, I didn't particularly know this position existed for me. However, I did know that I wanted to work in the community that I wanted to help inform a bigger change, so policy, and I wanted to do something that spoke to my personal beliefs with people with disabilities, and I really I did do my research. I feel like part of that research entails getting an education and really learning the evidence-based ways on how to engage people. What works, and what's not worked in the past, and how can I be... an expert in that and what makes me stand out. Be open to mentors and help along the way. I think that is something that is overlooked as well, help, receiving help. We're a very independent culture here in America and that is an extremely high skill that everybody strives to have is to become independent and to work hard and whatnot. But I think it makes you even more independent if you're willing to receive help when you need it to become more efficient at what you do.