ARCHIVE: Message from Leadership — Be an Advocate for Public Health
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Decades from now, when we contemplate the current times, what memories will we most cherish? What stories will we tell future generations when they ask about life right now?
As we transitioned from 2021 to 2022, I mulled over these questions. The everyday bustle of work and home life often has a way of keeping us focused on the here and now, marching from one activity to another without pausing to reflect on the progress we have made and where we are heading. But the new year gives us a reason to put a pause on work, reflect and reset.
When I sit and quietly play back the last 12 months in my mind, I find myself remembering so many experiences that, at the time of their making, I did not see as particularly significant. They largely consist of casual conversations and interactions with various people in and outside of work. Small talk with employees during lab visits. Idle chit chat on MS Teams in the minutes before videoconferences. Jokes exchanged with neighbors and strangers at the checkout line.
And yet, despite being unremarkable on a surface level, some of these encounters will become the stories that I will most enjoy sharing with my future grandkids. It will not be the Big Memories—the events that brought me the most personal attention or acclaim. It will be the small stuff. The kind of memories that are very easy to forget unless we take time to remember them and store away in our long-term memory banks.
For instance, I had a conversation with my hairdresser in April 2021, right after COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. She confessed to feeling unsure about getting vaccinated while shampooing my hair. I suddenly found myself in a dilemma. Do I put on my metaphorical Public Health Service hat and start lecturing her on the benefits of vaccination? Or should I just stay silent?
Well, I decided to go with my conscience. While it would have kept my life simpler if I’d kept our transaction focused on my hair, advocating for public health is the only option I realistically could have chosen. I can’t remember exactly what I said (except that it was not very technical or lecture-like), but it must have been persuasive because at the end of our conversation she vowed to get vaccinated. She even called her mother and told her this right in front of me. Mind you, her mother had been pleading with her to get vaccinated for months. I managed to crack the code in a matter of minutes, despite practically being a stranger.
When I tell you that this is one of my proudest accomplishments this year, I’m not exaggerating. This will be one of my best memories of 2021. It’s an anecdote that could easily be forgotten because it is so small compared to other experiences, but I chose to speak up and will value this memory for life.
The tasks we do every day to benefit public health, no matter how small and simple they may appear on the surface, represent accomplishments that we should take full pride in. Public recognition and monetary awards are no substitute for the memories that we will carry into the future. Don’t let the year get away from you without taking a moment to collect your 2021 memories and to think on what memories you might make in 2022 that you look forward to collecting.
Dr. Kis Robertson Hale, DVM
RADM U.S. Public Health Service
Deputy Assistant Administrator
Office of Public Health Science