Member Spotlight: Elke Shaw-Tulloch

December 01, 2016|10:50 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, MHS, is administrator of the Division of Public Health at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which serves the state by providing infrastructure for population health initiatives and acts as a first responder during times of public health need. She has been an ASTHO member since 2012 and she currently services on ASTHO’s board of directors.

Why is health important to you? 
Staying healthy is critical to my physical and mental health. I use exercise to keep stress levels low and deliberately build it into my daily routine. I am fortunate that my parents have been excellent role models in this regard. My 84-year-old father still plays tennis four days a week, hikes regularly, rides his motorcycle, and he even skis! He has proven to me that staying active really pays off. I hope that after my kids (ages 14 and 18) overcome their teenage aversion to doing what their parents do, they will see me as a role model for healthy behavior. I also believe it is very important, as the state health official, to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?
Before becoming a state health official, I worked within the division of public health for a number of years—since 1996. During this time, I learned a great deal about the division and its responsibilities. I had a good working relationship with the previous administrators, and when presented with new opportunities and challenges, I took them. When my predecessor retired, I was recommended as her replacement, and I’ve had the benefit of being able to surround myself with an absolutely amazing and talented staff, who also have a great deal of public health experience.

What other positions have you held at a health department?
I started off as a health education specialist working on a historical dose reconstruction project for the Hanford nuclear site. Afterwards, I moved into several program manager roles, most involving nuclear sites and environmental issues (my background is environmental health). Prior to becoming administrator, I served as chief for two different bureaus, the latter for nine years.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?
I love the ability to help people and make positive changes in their lives. I also love that we have a great public health infrastructure in Idaho. We have seven local public health departments, each of which operates as their own, quasi-governmental organization serving all 44 counties in Idaho. I love that I have a great working relationship with all of the district directors and that we have the opportunity to strategize together on how to advance public health in Idaho. 

What do you find most challenging about public health?
One of the biggest challenges is that there is limited legislative investment in public health. On the bright side, public health is getting more face time with legislators, and they are coming to better understand what we do. Furthermore, as legislators struggle with issues like Medicaid expansion—something we do not have in Idaho—policymakers are gaining an appreciation for preventive health services and programming.

What is something you’re most thankful to have been a part of during your career in public health?
Idaho was one of the fortunate states to receive the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s State Innovation Model grant monies to work on healthcare innovation. This was just beginning when I took the administrator position and I immediately started work to ensure that public health had a seat at the table to create our State Healthcare Innovation Plan and model test grant. As a result, public health is an essential player in transforming healthcare across the state, and we are seen as leaders, at both the state and local levels.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned during your career in public health?
Public health is an ego-free zone. We are not in it for ourselves. We are in it for others. I see this job as an opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Another important thing I’ve learned is the ability to accept when something is good enough and not get caught up spending ridiculous amounts of time debating what constitutes perfection at the expense of getting something done. If it is good enough, move on, and then come back to refine later.

Lastly, my absolute most valuable lesson would be: hire good people and let them shine. I am incredibly blessed to have public health leaders in my division who are wickedly intelligent, flexible, innovative, collaborative, hardworking, and most of all, genuinely good people.

What do you do to stay healthy?
I enjoy a wide variety of physical activities. I teach a group exercise class 3-5 times a week called barre. It is a mix of yoga, dance, pilates, and fitness. I also run, hike, group fitness train, bike (road and mountain), ski, snowboard, and take yoga. I do my best to eat healthy, but could always do better.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?
There are many places I have been and want to go. I love traveling, especially to other countries. For quick getaways, I love the mountains in Idaho. I enjoy the ability to be surrounded by pine trees, and I enjoy hiking, biking, and skiing. 

What is your morning ritual?
I’m an early riser. Most days, I exercise, then race out the door, drop my son at school, and head to the office. Coffee is a vitally important, as is breakfast, which I am adamant about having as a family (and dinner, for that matter).

What are your favorite hobbies?
Aside from almost anything physical, I love horseback riding, spending time with my family and friends, going to dance performances, particularly modern dance and ballet, as those are my roots (I danced professionally for years with a modern dance troop in Idaho). I also reconstruct vintage handbags and sell them periodically, and I love being in the yard and gardening.

Where do you get your news from?
This is one area of my life where I wish I spent more time. When I can, I listen to NPR, scan local/regional news, watch CNN, and read online news sources.