Mailbag Post #1: Ask Me Anything Public Health Friends!

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I get a lot of questions via email and social media. Sometimes they are specific to public health consulting, and sometimes they are questions about my work and life more broadly. I’m excited to share some of the questions and my responses here in my first mailbag post.

Q1: What is the biggest challenge you face working from home, and how do you address that challenge?

The biggest challenge for me working from home is that it’s hard to separate work from personal life. I do not have a commute to clearly delineate office and home. As a result, it is easy to get distracted by home tasks (hello laundry!) during work hours and vice versa. The best strategies I’ve developed to address this challenge are:

  • Have a designated, separate work space if possible. We turned one of our guest bedrooms into my dedicated home office. I work in there. I shut the door. I find it much easier to concentrate on just work when I am not surrounded by household or kid mess that is begging to be cleaned up.

  • Get dressed. I know for some people the idea of working in your pajamas is divine. But I’ve found it makes me feel unprofessional and “yucky.” I always feel much better and focused when I’ve gotten ready in the morning. I don’t dress up unless I have a meeting, but leggings and a nice sweater go a long way towards feeling like you are going to work!

  • Have designated work hours…and communicate them. For now, my work hours revolve around my son’s school schedule. My family knows my work hours and I communicate them to clients at the start of a project (and I include them in my email signature as an ongoing reminder). Having designated work hours makes it easier to have clear boundaries between work and home without bouncing back and forth all the time.

  • Have childcare. I often hear about professionals (especially women) wanting to work from home so they can have more time with their kids. And often this translates to trying to do both at the same time. I do not recommend this! If you want to successfully work from home (and keep your sanity), book a childcare provider for your work hours. There is no quicker way to merge work and personal life than trying to work with a sick toddler who is boycotting nap.

Q2: Can you explain more about the CHES/MCHES credential? Has it helped you in your public health/consulting career? And if so- how?

  • The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) oversees the credentialing process. The Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and Master Certified Health Education (MCHES®) examinations are competency-based tools used to measure possession, application and interpretation of knowledge in the Seven Areas of Responsibility for Health Education Specialists. The CHES® and MCHES® certifications create a national and international standard for health education specialists practicing at both entry and advanced levels.

  • I applied to sit for the CHES exam in fall 2005- my last semester of graduate school. I wanted to be a college health educator after graduation and most campus jobs preferred the credential at that time (now many require it, as knowledge of and respect for the credential has definitely increased over the past 14 years). In 2011, I was proud to join the inaugural class of MCHES.

  • Holding the CHES and now the MCHES has definitely helped me in my public health and consulting career:

    • The credential gives you another way to stand out in a sea of MPH resumes submitted for the same job.

    • The credential confirms that you have demonstrated competency in key areas of health education practice and are motivated to pursue continuing education to consistently improve your knowledge and skills.

    • It has enabled me to join a great community! When I meet another CHES/MCHES professional, I immediately feel comradery and a shared experience.

    • My CHES/MCHES has also helped me develop a key consulting service. I often support organizations that are developing public health and health education trainings and want to apply for CHES continuing education units. They are required to have a CHES professional on their planning committee, so they hire me to consult. I review the training or course content and confirm it is aligned with relevant health education competencies to ensure a successful CEU application.

 

Q3: What are your working mom tips? How do you balance a leadership role (in your business) but also being there for your family?

  • Get more childcare than you think you need. For example, if you have 20 hours of work per week, book your sitter for 25 hours. You will no doubt have projects that take longer than expected, sick days, doctors’ appointments, or other issues that run amok with your schedule. I have definitely made the mistake of booking more work than my designated childcare hours and it’s always stressful. It usually results in desperately trying to play catch up on nights and weekends, which quickly leads to burnout.

  • Have a backup plan. Your child will no doubt spike a fever or puke the night before your big presentation. It is basically guaranteed! Instead of frantically trying to solve the childcare problem at 3am with a sick child, think about all this ahead of time. If you have a partner- does he/she have a flexible job? Can they block time on their calendar when you have travel or a big meeting- just in case? Is your sitter or neighbor or family member available to be on call?

  • The type of work matters. Ever since my son was born, I have purposely chosen projects that are primarily remote, flexible, and require little/no in person meetings. As some of you know, my son was born two months premature. Therefore, we were not able to do traditional daycare (germ problems) and we’ve had some ongoing health issues to contend with the past five years. So I needed my work to be flexible and not require travel. As a result, I have taken on lots of writing projects and course development projects. They can be done remotely, anytime, anywhere.

  • Plan. Plan. Plan. On the weekends (or whenever you have downtime), plan ahead for things to minimize your stress during the week. For example, once a week I map out our dinner menu for the whole week and just plug those ingredients into our grocery delivery service. Boom- ordered. I don’t think about it the rest of the week and don’t have to figure out dinner at 5pm when everyone is hungry, tired, and grumpy.

 

Do you have more questions for me? Leave them in the comments and I’ll answer in a future “mail bag” blog post. Questions do not have to be about consulting specifically, I’m happy to chat about my MPH program, lessons learned in my early jobs, what I like doing besides public health, etc.

 

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