Every year, AMCHP selects a theme for our Annual Conference that puts the spotlight on a maternal and child health (MCH) priority relevant to the entire workforce and transcends population domains. In 2023, and through our theme, “Cultivating Diverse Leaders in Maternal and Child Health,” we aim to discuss how to grow leaders in MCH that reflect the diversity, cultures, and abilities of the people we all serve.
This month, we invited Amani, one of the leaders of the conference’s student and early career professional roundtables, and Ben and Nia, both from AMCHP’s Workforce Development and Capacity Building team, to share their reflections on the theme, examples of MCH workforce development resources, and what you can expect at the 2023 AMCHP Annual Conference.
Meet the Contributors
Amani Echols is a Behavioral Health Policy Fellow at AMCHP. She works on the PRISM (Promoting Innovation in State MCH Policymaking) grant through HRSA. Under the PRISM project, Amani advances discussion and education on women of reproductive age with mental health and substance use disorders by writing issue briefs, providing policy technical assistance to states, and chairing the internal AMCHP mental health committee. [learn more]
Ben Kaufman is the Associate Director of Workforce Development and Capacity Building at AMCHP. He leads a team that is accountable for the development, implementation, and evaluation of program activities aligned with AMCHP’s strategic plan goal to attract and retain highly competent people in the MCH public health workforce. [learn more]
Nia Sutton is a Program Manager for Emergency Preparedness & Response at AMCHP. Nia applies a preparedness lens to the Workforce goal (and other areas) of AMCHP’s strategic plan, accounting for all types of intersecting emergencies and recognizing the role of individual leadership development in building collective capacity. [learn more]
What does the 2023 conference theme, Cultivating Diverse Leaders in Maternal and Child Health, mean to you?
Amani: “To me, cultivating diverse leaders in MCH means eliminating barriers to joining the workforce and investing in a workforce that is reflective of the gestating people, women, children, youth, and families we serve. Cultivating diverse leadership, to me, also means not only ensuring access to the decision-making table but true participation in shared power and shared decision-making at the table. Diverse MCH leadership will help ensure that no one is left out of the conversation and that we advance policies and programs that consider our intersectional positions and life experiences.”
Given your dedication to workforce leadership development, what aspects of this year’s conference are you most excited about?
Amani: “For this year’s conference, I am most excited to observe the variety of interpretations speakers and attendees will have of the conference theme. I also appreciate that the theme challenges us to reflect on our values and how they may or may not be congruent with who we have traditionally raised up as leaders.”
Thinking back on the 2022 conference theme, what is your “why” for working in MCH?
Amani: “Inherently a part of being a member of the MCH workforce is the commitment to embracing change and being a lifelong learner, practicing humility, and adopting a growth mindset. These are traits that I value in my personal and professional life and why I am drawn to the MCH workforce.”
As one of the architects of the student and early career professional roundtables, what did you enjoy the most about those sessions over the last two years? What do you hope to see this year?
Amani: “The roundtable session greatly reflects the spirit of the conference theme since students and early career professionals are the future of the MCH workforce. It is important that we do not charge young professionals to address the problems we perpetuate and create today. Rather, we should invite young people into the conversation to be proactive in tackling MCH’s most wicked problems. This is what the roundtable session seeks to do. It is a unique opportunity for students and early career professionals to solicit feedback by engaging in discussion with diverse MCH professionals. I take great pleasure in and am energized by the peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange that occurs during the roundtable session.”
What actions can we take to ensure that our MCH leaders truly thrive rather than survive?
Amani: “We need to advocate for and advance initiatives to adequately compensate MCH leaders, create opportunities for growth, and invest in workplace environments and systems supports that facilitate MCH leaders’ well-being and professional development.”
Ben: “In the September 2022 edition of AMCHP’s Pulse newsletter, I wrote an article that offered recommendations for building a more inclusive, sustainable workforce. One of those recommendations was to “provide space for curiosity, exploration, vulnerability, and mutual support.” At the time, I was thinking primarily about how we embrace students and early career professionals, but this has universal relevance. We are all at our best when we feel safe, when we feel we belong, when we feel whole, when we are adequately informed, and when we are appropriately challenged. And when I say best, I don’t necessarily mean “most productive” but rather “most ready.” This can be readiness to break through the fear and awkwardness needed to truly engage in antiracist practices, readiness to critically evaluate partnerships that aren’t resulting in equitable outcomes, and readiness to put real funding into community-oriented solutions… this is the type of transformation that results from individual and collective thriving. Each of us, regardless of where we sit in the formal power structure of our agencies, can contribute (even if it means changing how we operate because it opens up space for others) to workplace cultures where “most ready” is a north star.”
What are some examples of workforce development resources that AMCHP 2023 attendees should check out?
Ben: “AMCHP is committed to addressing current and anticipated workforce priorities through a variety of approaches with varying degrees of reach and impact, but I’m especially proud of how we invest time, energy, and care into the career trajectories of Title V and affiliated staff. A great example of this is our Leadership Lab program. It’s a nine-month program that exposes participants to information and resources that are relevant to their current and future roles; encourages the development and continuous revision of individualized leadership plans; challenges participants through collaborative activities and thoughtful discussions; cultivates a peer learning and accountability network; and provides participants with ongoing support from a matched mentor and AMCHP staff. We’ll be launching an application for the next cohort not long after the conference, but in the meantime, we’ve captured a lot of the content presented during Leadership Lab (and past conferences) in our MCH Essentials Series that can be accessed by anyone at any time. The multimedia modules in this series cover content that is foundational for effective practice and equitable leadership across roles and settings, with an emphasis on knowledge and skill development. Current topics include Understanding MCH History and Systems, Racially Just and Equitable Leadership, Return on Investment, and more.”
What advice do you have for early career professionals to get the most out of the conference?
Amani: “I recommend early career professionals to identify 1-3 goals in participating in the conference (e.g., practice networking, learn about a specific topic area, or improve public speaking skills). Setting goals in advance will ensure that you fully take advantage of the conference and can later articulate the professional development gains benefited from your attendance. I also recommend early career professionals attend 1-2 sessions not related to issues they currently focus on to learn about a new MCH topic.
In general, I hope all participants embrace the opportunity to be in a collective in-person or virtual space with their fellow MCH colleagues. The greatest joy of AMCHP’s conference is the ability to build community, increase synergy across our efforts to maximize our impact, and re-ground ourselves in our purpose to advance MCH.”