Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight: Karyl Rattay, Director of the Delaware Division of Public Health

March 10, 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 women who have inspired me along my journey both in leadership and in public health. Much of my inspiration comes from the women in my own division who lead their teams, innovate solutions, and make a difference in the health of Delawareans every day.

Being a state health official for 13 years means I have had the privilege of knowing, and learning from, many brilliant women leaders from other states. Some who come to mind include my mentor Mary Selecky (alumni-WA), who is collaborative and bold; Dr. Jewel Mullen (alumni-CT), who is thoughtful and articulate; Dr. Rachel Levine (alumni-PA), who is a consensus builder (with a great sense of humor); and Dr. Anne Zink (SHO-AK), who has incredible energy and perspectives.

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

I hope that I have been able to elevate other women in public health in many ways. One that comes to mind though is by providing constant support for putting self and family first. When I began this role, my children were ages one and three, so I have had to model the difficulty of balancing work and motherhood. Our leadership team includes many women with children under the age of 18. We work hard to encourage a healthy work/family balance and I believe this has led many women to work, stay, and seek leadership roles in our division.

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

I am grateful that I have received so much support during my leadership journey. At the top of my list are my husband and children. But I would like to honor my friend and deputy director, Crystal Mintzer Webb, who has been my partner at the Division of Public Health for the past 13 years. Together, we have made many positive changes in our division and have seen significant outcomes. Simply put, I could not have done this work without her support. I don't believe I would still be in this position if I did not have her by my side. Her honest feedback, her ability to pull me back from the brink when I’m feeling down or attacked, and her ability to fight the good fight of government bureaucracy for the people we serve inspires me and keeps me going.

Describe one of the most meaningful accomplishments of your career.

I can't pick just one. It is exhilarating to pass legislation like increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21, or adding e-cigarettes to our Clean Indoor Air Act, or executing successful initiatives like our Delaware CAN program that has led to a statewide decrease in unplanned pregnancies.

But I feel most proud that I can say I have never acted or spoken about any topic or issue inconsistent with my core values. When combining politics with science, it is challenging but important to keep our own values at the forefront and always be true to who we are as people. That means having courageous and difficult conversations at times. I have learned that most people respect the willingness to stay true to what matters to individuals personally.

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

The public health workforce motivates me to persevere through tough times. Let's be honest, we all have likely had our moments in the past few years and have questioned whether the stress of this work and the toll that it takes on our physical and mental health and our families is worth it. In those moments, it doesn't take much for me to remember all the incredible people in our division who could all get paid more in the private sector but are driven by our mission to improve the health of our citizens. We have come so far yet have so much work to do together. I cannot let them down.