SARAH VERBIEST

Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.

What brought you to the organization and your current work?

I have been in my current position as Project Manager for Following the Life Course with the Barren River District Health Department for about a year now, having relocated from Portland, Oregon to Bowling Green, Kentucky. I have been working in public health for the last five years or so.
What are you most excited about or what is your favorite aspect of your project on reproductive life planning?
One of my favorite aspects of our project on reproductive life planning is that it allows us to collaborate with partner agencies, such as area hospitals or local mental health agencies. I think that it’s great that we want to engage in capacity building, and that the grant challenges us to move beyond our traditional programmatic “silos.” I think that it is easy for us to focus on personal accountability in our daily practice, whereas this project seems to encourage us to balance the recognition that behavioral change and personal responsibility are important with a deeper understanding of the ways in which behaviors and choices might be structured.  
What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge with this project?
I anticipate that the project will bring with it a few different challenges. The first has to do with the comparative dearth of literature on the social marketing and programmatic instruments and tools that have been used out in the field, along with their reception by the patient population. I still find myself wanting to know more about what kinds of slogans other programs have used, what kinds of questions or items have been utilized in other survey instruments, and what types of resources have been offered. I would love to know more about the contexts in which these programs have been deployed (e.g. target audience demographics, geographic region(s), capacity of pilot site(s), etc.).  
As with other areas of public health, I think that it can prove challenging to develop a cogent narrative or “story” around an issue as complex as the Life Course, especially given its many attendant concepts (e.g. trajectories, adverse programming, etc.) This is the type of challenge that pervades our lives as public health practitioners, however – in other words, how to “re-frame” the clinical conversation in a way that is both nuanced and easily digestible by a larger audience. As a corollary, I think that it can prove challenging to inspire one’s peers to address some of these more distal factors, especially amidst the constraints and exigencies of ever shrinking public health budgets and staffing shortages. Change can be intimidating enough, even in the most secure of times. In this way, I feel that addressing concerns – however well-intended, misplaced, or unfounded – about the evidence base undergirding such an approach (e.g. in staff involved, time spent, impact, etc.) becomes very important.  
I think that some misperceptions might also exist about the receptiveness or initiative of some audiences to this information. For this reason, I believe that it’s crucial to structure one’s content in such a way that it is tailored to the intended audience, and speaks to peoples’ lived experiences. One area of thought that I find to be particularly apt in this regard is popular education. As it is related to public health, this notion of popular education encourages people to try and understand the root causes of poor health, using techniques such as cooperative learning.  
Can you share any books, articles, websites that help with your work?

One Key Question http://www.onekeyquestion.org/

Levis DM, Westbrook K. A content analysis of preconception health education materials: characteristics, strategies, and clinical-behavioral components. American journal of health promotion. 2013;27:S36

Frey KA, Files JA. Preconception healthcare: what women know and believe. Maternal and child health journal. 2006;10:S73-77. link to free article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1592249/

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