ASTHO Thanks the Public Health Community

November 19, 2018|1:28 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

ASTHO is celebrating Public Health Thank You Day by thanking all state and territorial public health professionals for their tireless work and service in helping to protect and improve the nation’s health. This year, ASTHO’s president and members of the board of directors reflect on what they are most thankful for as public health leaders and offer a “thank you” message to some of their own personal mentors.


Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, president of ASTHO and director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (above), delivers a special message for our nation’s strong and dedicated public health workforce.

Nate Smith, ASTHO President-Elect
Director and State Health Officer, Arkansas Department of Health

The man who first inspired me to pursue a career in public health knew little about public health himself. He was an academic pathologist who spent a good portion of his career elucidating the ultrastructure of the schistosome, a parasitic infection that can be eradicated simply by building latrines (and getting people to use them!). But he believed that public health was the best way to improve the health of populations, and he believed in me. That was enough. It was my father who first inspired me to learn about public health when it was not much more than a vague concept to me. That nascent interest eventually grew into a high calling and a career in public health. My father died from a (preventable) malignancy in 2002, a few years before I took my first job in state public health. I think it would have made him happy to see me as state epidemiologist and then state health officer. My thank you message to him is simple: “Thank you, Dad, for pointing me in the right direction and letting me run.”

Randall Williams
Director, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

Thank you to all those in public health who work every day to keep their communities safe and healthy. Aristotle said that of all the virtues, courage was the most important, because without it, all of the other virtues were not possible. More than ever, I thank those in public health who courageously lead and serve as we face challenges that require a great commitment to serving others. This courage is critical to improving the health and safety of all people in our communities. As a clinician who’s been privileged to care for thousands of patients, I have often observed that the happiest people I encounter are those who are part of a team. I am thankful to be on the team with my public health colleagues.

Mylynn Tufte
State Health Officer, North Dakota Department of Health

As a public health leader, I have immense gratitude for the North Dakota Department of Health and our team of professionals. Every day they make a difference as they live out our “Team ND” purpose to empower people, improve lives, and inspire success.

As a new state health official, I am constantly learning from Dr. Donald Warne, who serves as the associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion and director of the Indians Into Medicine program at the University of North Dakota’s School of Medicine Health Sciences, as well as dean of the MPH program. He’s been a great mentor, partner, and role model. Together, we have the opportunity to increase the cultural competency of our workforce, empower the next generation of public health leaders, and most importantly, improve health equity for all North Dakotans.

John Hellerstedt
Commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services

As a public health leader in the Lone Star State, I am grateful for all of our teammates and allies. The effective operation of public health programs requires a small army of specially trained and especially dedicated professionals. Before becoming a state health officer, I spent several years as an executive in a multi-hospital system. That experience drove home the truth that no job or function is unimportant. Every team member must contribute to accomplish the mission. Our existence as public health agencies—whether global, national, state, or local—depends on the support of our allies, especially decisionmakers in elected office. I am grateful that they understand and support our mission. The breadth and critical import of public health is not widely understood outside those of us privileged to practice the profession.

Therefore, our duty is threefold:

  1. to operate our programs with optimal benefit for the communities we serve.
  2. to remind those communities of the value of protecting their health security from a spectrum of serious threats.
  3. to lift each other up by recognizing and celebrating the skill and dedication of our teams.

I am also grateful for ASTHO itself, which is composed of public health champions from across the United States, with colleagues from the Pacific Islands to the Caribbean. The sun never sets on ASTHO!

Gerd Clabaugh
Director, Iowa Department of Public Health

I am thankful every day for the public health professionals in state agencies across the country who work directly with our committed local partners on health improvement and protection activities. So much of this work is critical to protecting the public’s health and ensuring that Iowans and all Americans receive the support and services they need. In Iowa, these staff are responsible for fielding and responding to hundreds of calls (many times after hours and on weekends), driving many miles, responding to emergencies, and supporting Iowans through both individual and community challenges and difficulties. At this Thanksgiving time, I wish to express a heartfelt “thank you” to these public health professionals who perform the daily work of keeping Americans and American communities healthy.

Michael Fraser, ASTHO Chief Executive Officer

Many of our successes in public health are greatly owed to the efforts of the dedicated professionals who work in our nation’s health departments. I am grateful for these talented individuals who serve their communities and remain vigilant in their work to keep us healthy and safe. Today and every day, they deserve our thanks, recognition, and support. ASTHO joins its members in thanking all those who work in public health for the dedication and energy they bring to the important mission of promoting and protecting our health and well-being.

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