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Walden Magazine // Jan 01, 2010

To the Top

How to become a leader in your profession.

A man drawing diagrams on a white board.Bruce DartFrom the ongoing debate on healthcare reform to recent outbreaks of the H1N1 flu virus, healthcare is dominating the national agenda. Participating in many of the discussions is Bruce Dart. As president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), Dart is playing an integral role in shaping U.S. health policy. In recent months, he has worked with public health officials nationwide, attended White House meetings on pandemic policy, and helped the Centers for Disease Control formulate H1N1 vaccination procedures. A former Nebraska Environmental Health Administrator of the Year, Dart has worked in the public health field for more than 30 years and currently directs the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, a local public health agency serving more than 275,000 people in Nebraska. Dart draws on his own experience to provide the following steps for achieving a leadership position in virtually any profession.

Gain as Much Experience as Possible. The public health field is diverse and you can take many different directions. In my early positions, I had the opportunity to learn all about public health, from the lab to health inspection to epidemiology to managing programs and grants. Every position I’ve held has allowed me to grow and develop personally and professionally.

Be Willing to Risk Your Popularity. Throughout your career, whether you are a leader or not, you must make tough decisions. I was very unpopular when I instituted a smoke-free workplace ordinance for the city of Lincoln. The ordinance covered all public places within the city limits. The local political opposition was tremendous, but the ultimate benefit to the community was much greater. My philosophy is that as a leader, you must make decisions for the greater good. If you do this, you will gain a reputation for getting the job done and for doing it well.

Inspire Others to Meet Your High Standards. Those who work with me know I set high expectations for myself and for those around me. For instance, there is a common perception that government employees are not pushed to perform to their highest potential. I turned that perception on its head and told my staff, “We are going to provide the highest level of service to our customers.” My staff met that challenge. They reached out to individuals, organizations, and businesses to establish relationships and educate them about the essential role of public health in everyone’s lives.

Join Professional Associations. Throughout my career, I have served on numerous state and local public health committees, focusing on community health and healthcare access issues. I was president of Nebraska’s public health association before serving as an officer of NACCHO. Membership in the appropriate organizations broadens your exposure in the field and puts you in contact with other bright, motivated professionals who are also charting leadership courses.

Find the Voice for Your Profession. You must have the confidence and knowledge to represent the views of your colleagues, and you must be able to adapt your perspective in response to their needs. As president of NACCHO, I must be an appropriate voice for all of those individuals who work in local health departments around the country. One of my goals is to make the field of public health more visible. In a profession supported by state and federal funding, it is critical that citizens recognize public health is key to the wellbeing of our communities. —Nancy Grund