SARAH VERBIEST

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

For May we are featuring Mississippi. One of our featured leaders is Connie Bish, MS, PhD, MPH, State MCH Epidemiologist. Connie was happy to answer a few questions about her work and why she is involved with Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position?

I started my position as the CDC assigned State MCH Epidemiologist in October 2009.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

Seeing that “Ah ha” moment when folks comprehend that human life is not segmented into funding silos but rather human life is integrated not only within a person but within their family, their community, their state, their country. In addition to being a Nutrition/Chronic Disease and Reproductive Health Epidemiologist, I am trained in Animal Husbandry and Poultry Science – agriculture. In agriculture, we know that the genetic potential of the seed is influenced by its ancestral seed stock, AND, the fertility of the soil where it is planted, the abundance or scarcity of water (usually rain), the supplemental nutrition added to less fertile soils (fertilizer), the protection from deadly risks (e.g., bugs, weeds, predatory plants and animals (think Kudzu!) through herbicides, pesticides, fencing or just good rotation cropping. So I have always understood the influence across the lifecourse – that is how agriculturalists think. I get excited when people schooled in the segmentation of public health programs suddenly understand the breadth of influence on human health, and then start to work toward integration. So I guess I get excited when human health folks start thinking like farmers!!

What is your biggest challenge?

Lack of funding is big. However, a lack of willingness to try a change, embrace a new concept, even if it results in failure or less than optimal results, is a barrier/challenge that is much harder to get past. At least with a willingness to try, creative ideas might find money or find synergy or find partners for create Win Win situations. But nothing happens when there is no willingness to try – money or no money!

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

Mississippi women of reproductive age do not have the best health. There are areas of MS where 74% of women ages 18-44 are overweight or obese, compared to 50.5% for 46 U.S. states (minus, MS, LA, AR, TN: source unpublished BRFSS data that compares MS Delta to the non-Delta US states). Hearing what other states are doing with regard to preconception health will hopefully provide ideas and strategies to further incorporate preconception health awareness and counseling into health department programs and general population education.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it?

I have learned that a million dollars does not go far, so I would want to find a way to grow the money then use it to enhance education. I would want to find a way to have education be the most revered pursuit of all people, families, communities and the state. I would want the population to learn critical thinking skills that would help with the understanding that risk is inherent, but we all have the ability to choose lower risk options – if we know what they are and we feel empowered to make those lower risk chooses. I am pretty sure that 1 million dollars would not go far in the pursuit of increased education status for the population.

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