Public Health on the Menu
Dr. Yvonne Greer’s “mission moment” occurred during her childhood, after her grandmother was rushed to the hospital in a coma. When her family returned to the hospital the next day, her grandmother was in better spirits. However, she was formally diagnosed with diabetes and told she would need to start paying closer attention to what she eats.
“At age 12, it was just crazy to me that someone could be rushed to the hospital and be unresponsive at night and then sitting up and seeming to be perfectly fine the very next day,” Dr. Greer says. “And it all came down to the foods she was eating.”
That experience inspired Dr. Greer at age 16 to pursue a career in dietetics and become a registered dietitian. After completing her nutrition degree, she would check in with her grandmother and give her advice on how to keep her health condition under control. “If she became ill, I would help her monitor her food intake and tell her what she should be eating more of and less of,” she says. “Do you know, I found out later those were the first times she ever heard anything about watching her eating like that?” When she realized that her grandmother had never been given comprehensive diet instruction after her diagnosis, Dr. Greer thought about everyone else who may be fighting similar health battles and lacked the awareness to prevent or manage it.
The 2022 Walden Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) graduate now makes it her personal mission to reach as many people as possible before and after they’re diagnosed with nutrition-influenced diseases—all in efforts to help them stay well and live long and healthier lives.
Adding a Doctorate
Dr. Greer has a career in nutrition and dietetics spanning three decades. Her life’s work is to develop a culture around health and wellness for her entire community.
“When I started thinking about getting a doctorate, it was to enable me to be the principal investigator of my own community-based participatory grants,” says Dr. Greer. In her understanding that social connectedness and community needs are sometimes absent in grant writing, she notes “that’s when I started to think about Walden. I wanted to advance the things I was already doing and become qualified to write my own grants with the community in mind.”
As Dr. Greer reflects on how Walden’s DrPH program has helped move her initiatives along, she credits the experience for opening pathways to be recognized as a subject matter expert. She also gives a special nod to the program’s flexibility and emphasis on work-school balance. During her time at Walden, Dr. Greer was elected chair of the National Organization of Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition (NOBIDAN). When recounting how she was able to balance significant leadership roles on boards and advisory committees while completing a doctoral program, Greer remembers encouraging words from her father.
“He always told me to never give up and to dream big!” she says. “I’ve missed Christmas because I had to finish a paper. But when I look back at times like those and then my overall experience, I must conclude that Walden did enhance my knowledge in ways I couldn’t have fathomed.”
A Full Plate of Projects
As far as what’s next for Dr. Greer, she has no shortage of ways to continue helping the community through her newfound knowledge and professional pursuits. She is part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant that addresses diabetes and heart disease prevention. As part of the initiative, Dr. Greer provides nutrition leadership on a healthy heart ambassador project in partnership with a community health worker. Referrals come from two partnering community clinics to participate in the nutrition workshop series she hosts.
“The goal is that through gaining a greater understanding of nutrition and healthy meal planning, intentional monitoring of their blood pressure, and accountable medication intake, they’ll be able to control their health and develop better everyday skills” Dr. Greer says.
Aiming to improve healthy eating and food preparation skills for a healthy lifespan, Dr. Greer co-hosts a YouTube program called Days of Learning Back to the Kitchen where she does food demonstrations out of her own kitchen. Each episode features a “topic of the day” that she likes to keep wide-ranging and relatable.
Additionally, she is the project lead and co-chair of the Strategic Leadership Committee for the Healthy & Fit MCOPP (Milwaukee County Organizations Promoting Prevention) Grant. It is a collaboration with Tufts University in Boston as part of their Catalyzing Communities to Promote Child Health Equity Initiative, a $2.5 million grant to promote coalitions and communities working toward positive social change. To this end, she represents the Milwaukee grantees on the 9-city Catalyzing Communities Learning Collaborative to share best practices and problem solve with others working to make an impact in their communities.
Finally, and closest to home, Dr. Greer is teaming up with her daughter who is a reproductive health/OB RN, certified lactation specialist, doula, and yoga instructor to launch The Nurturing Collaborative in partnership with Feeding America of Southeastern Wisconsin and a host of others community champions.
“As my daughter so clearly articulates, the last thing expecting mothers need to be worried about is how they’re going to eat,” Dr. Greer says. “That’s where we come in. We’ll be providing monthly healthy food boxes for an entire year to approximately 200 expecting families, while offering a series of nurturing classes each quarter and arranging essential boxes which will be composed of bath salts, crystals, affirmation cards, and a number of other things to reduce stress. Our goal is to provide the at-risk BIPOC expectant families with the social connectedness, support, and nurturing needed to ensure healthy birth outcomes for both the new parents and their infant.”
Yvonne D. Greer, DrPH, RD, CD, (center) receives Walden’s Leadership Excellence Award from Board of Directors Chair Toni Freeman (right) and board member Dr. Charlie Heller (left).
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