Public Health Leaders as Social Innovators-Facilitating systems change by starting with ourselves

Dedicated to the memory of S. Hughes Melton, MD MBA - my friend and colleague who left us too early for a higher calling

Here in 2019 we have, to quote Dickens, “the best of times and the worst of times.” Leading public health today finds one facing persistent disparities in health and well-being outcomes that matter to people, such as length and quality of life. In effect, as Deming was quoted as saying, “systems are perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” It is in these “worst of times,” however, where we find tremendous opportunity and with it hope for a better future. My message today for those leading public health is… system change must start with ourselves – our own mindset. A positive, growth-oriented mindset that allows us to envision a better future with greater opportunity for all people is a key start. And that start requires strong personal reflection to enhance our self-awareness and assure our own grounding in values worthy of the mission on which we embarked. This is not an easy journey, but we can survive and even thrive in the journey through this rough and unforgiving landscape if we continue to develop the one key relationship that must be developed first and foremost – our relationship with self. My friend Hughes embodied this concept. He was dedicated to excellence in all that he did with family, faith and community. Hughes taught me the value of discipline and self-reflection. It was not unusual to get an early am email from him. Through those emails, I knew he was reflecting, taking care of self and thinking of others every morning. He demonstrated immense passion for his life’s work and brought to it an inner strength that stands as a lesson for all of us.

Inner strength is a byproduct of the authenticity that arises from such reflection. This is the authenticity that allows us to balance our need for external validation with our own internal validation. And this is the authenticity which allows us to promote and develop the trust needed for the next ring of relationships so crucial to our well-being as social creatures -our families, friends and coworkers. It is from this authenticity that we develop the resilience that allows us to thrive. But many of us lost much of the ability to thrive early in life due to exposure to adverse childhood experiences, ACEs. For those of us who overcame our own ACEs or were fortunate to dodge such adversity we have a special role to play to prevent and mitigate the impact of ACEs in our communities. Reflecting on our own pursuit of authenticity and resilience gives us important insights into the key to breaking the cycle that has led to so much morbidity and premature mortality in the populations we serve. Dealing with the burden of disease in the community leaves us little energy for the critical work of prevention. We certainly have to help those burdened with disease, however, we concurrently need efforts to break the cycle so that we decrease the burden of chronic disease in future generations. Breaking the cycle is about changing the system.

Starting with ourselves, we can lay a foundation for the leadership necessary to promote and facilitate social innovation and hence, system change. Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” and Pasteur’s “Chance favors the prepared mind” make the point that any change we pursue must start with a deep gaze into the mirror, the one area in which we have the most control. What do you see when you look into the mirror?

Thank you for allowing me to express my love of Hughes which helped to inspire me to launch this leadership blog. Future blogs will begin a winding journey outward and inward to highlight, for leaders working to improve health and well-being, key insights into social innovation. This will not be a straight ride on smooth terrain but one more like a mountain trail - one with many obstacles, challenges, hazards and beautiful vistas. Hold on tight, it promises to be a wild ride on which together we will learn much.

Be well,

Marissa Levine

Resources to help you start with self

All it takes is 10 mindful minutes - Andy Puddicombe

Deepak Chopra: 7 powerful traits of highly effective leaders


Created with an image by Simon - "rough horn alpine tannheimer mountains"