Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight: Jinlene Chan, Deputy Secretary, Maryland Department of Health

May 26, 2022 | ASTHO Staff

Public health has a rich history of women in leadership. Are there any figures who inspire you most?

There are so many people who have influenced my career in public health in various ways. I have been fortunate to work with mentors such as Dr. Katherine Farrell, who served as the long-time Deputy Health Officer in the local county health department in Annapolis, Maryland. She had a very pragmatic approach to tackling public health issues and taught me much about boots-on-the-ground public health in the community. I appreciate that she always pushed me out of my comfort zone and created opportunities for me to be challenged and grow.

How have you been able to elevate other women in public health?

I am proud to have been able to work with and mentor a number of women in my career through precepting preventive medicine residents and working with early career professionals, many of whom have gone on to be public health leaders in their own right. Supporting the next generation of public health professionals ensures that our communities continue to have strong health advocates working for them.

Who has been most supportive of you in your leadership journey?

Without question, my husband first and foremost. He has always been encouraging of my work and passion for public health, even in the most difficult of circumstances and as I faced tough decisions. He would always remind me of why I chose to do this work and help me keep things in perspective and stay grounded.

I have also had other SHOs before me, like Fran Phillips, RN, MHA (alumni-MD), who have been a big presence throughout my career, have been generous with their time, and been a sounding board.

Describe one of the most meaningful accomplishments of your career.

It is hard to reflect on that sometimes because it seems there is always more we can do, but I am proud of the work that our team has done in Maryland to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on with my small but mighty Testing team that quickly ramped up testing sites around the state and the work with the State Superintendent to support schools reopening and returning kids to classrooms safely.

But beyond that it has been the personal connections—talking in a community meeting about why methadone treatment wasn’t just “trading one addiction for another” and having one of the tougher audience members telling me that I’d made him think differently about the issue. That was a small ‘win’ but one that I carry with me as I think about how important those connections are to be able to make a difference.

The public health workforce has been under immense stress. Who—or what—motivates you to persevere through tough times?

What focuses me even in tough times is to remember why I am in public health and the reason for the work we do. It comes down to the people we serve and keeping them healthy. It helps me to cut through the noise to take a step back and remind myself to “keep your eye on the prize.“ Then I can take a deep breath and keep going.