June 2, 2024

Career lessons from the heights of the public health profession

What have some of the most accomplished professionals in public health today learned about building a career in that professional space – and at an esteemed institution like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? I was fortunate to find out when I attended a recent webinar hosted by Drexel University’s Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program.

Former CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and CDC Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science Dr. Debra Houry shed light on their own experience, which took each of them to the heights of the public health profession and into high-level leadership roles. Here are some of the key lessons they shared:

  • By the time you think you are ready for a leadership opportunity, you’ve missed the window. (Don’t miss out on a chance for growth because you aren’t sure – take a chance.)
  • Never pass out your business cards during an emergency or a crisis. You don’t want to take advantage of a crisis to network with new people. And managing a crisis is always easier when relationships have been built in advance. Put the time in to expand your network before you really need it.
  • Sometimes you have to choose the best way to be wrong, and someone has to make that call. That’s you. Leaders often have to make decisions with incomplete information, because waiting until they have all the information can critically delay important action. Figure out the best way to be wrong, then act.
  • The “sleep at night” principle matters –- if you question yourself at night, you’ll never sleep. Trust yourself and trust the process, and then sleep. Tomorrow is a new day with new challenges and opportunities. You’ll never be able to face them if you don’t rest tonight. Even if your “best way to be wrong” turns out to be not so great.

It can be so helpful to step outside your own career journey and into someone else’s. What career and leadership lessons have you learned from experiences shared by others?

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