Interview with Joy Harris, Public Health Modernization Coordinator, Iowa Department of Public Health
Briefly describe your work and its relation to public health.
My primary responsibility for the Iowa Department of Public Health is as the Public Health Modernization Coordinator. Public Health Modernization is about looking at Iowa’s current governmental public health system and recommending changes so that we can improve. The public health environment keeps changing so it is a continuous work in progress! I am also the department’s accreditation coordinator. In that role, I have facilitated teams across the department who gathered documentation that demonstrates the department’s ability to meet Public Health Accreditation Board national standards. I also love a chance to help facilitate QI work and assist other health departments with quality improvement and going through the accreditation process.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I’m torn between saying that the most rewarding aspect of my work is relationships or if it’s more about it being amazing to witness people looking forward when the pressures of each day just seem to mount. Both are powerful in motivating me. Public health practice takes courage. I’m grateful for the work I’ve been able to do in partnership with local health departments, the Public Health Advisory Council, my colleagues at IDPH, and people I’ve had the opportunity to work with on a national level. I cannot imagine doing the work I do solo.
What led you to this career?
Growing up I wanted to be an occupational therapist. I went to school for that and I practiced for six years as an OT. I learned some amazing things. Part of what I learned, that I had not understood previously is that the patients I served were also interacting with a larger health care system. The more I learned the more I wanted to be on the side of preventing my patients from even needing me in the first place. Originally, it was environmental health that caught my eye but then somewhere along the way it became about the larger public health system.
What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for public health in Iowa in the next two years?
Frankly, I think it is difficult to know where we should move as a system. I find myself asking in meetings “What should every Iowan expect from public health?” The question has been a part of my work life the last 15 years. I struggle some days to know if we are any closer to answering it. However, I’m also optimistic that we haven’t stopped asking the question! I see opportunities in embracing specific standards as a system and hope that more work can be done in the area of workforce development.
What role do you think IPHA could play in meeting those opportunities?
I think of IPHA as a key player in shaping the public health system through collaborations, education, and advocacy. I appreciate that IPHA is forward thinking, engages its membership, and always seems to be on the lookout for a chance to move Iowa forward.