NEHA May 2014 Journal of Environmental Health - page 6

Volume 76 • Number 9
Alicia Enriquez Collins,
What It Means…
ach year, the NEHA president has the
honor of representing our association
throughout the country by participat-
ing in our local affiliate conferences. In April
of this year, I was invited to represent NEHA
in my home state of California at the annual
California Environmental Health Association
(CEHA) symposium. In addition to sharing up-
dates on NEHA initiatives and national trends
in environmental health, I was asked to give the
following presentation:
What It Means to Be an
Environmental Health Professional.
When the request was initially received,
I thought this was tantamount to posing a
question such as, “What is the meaning of
life?” or essentially, “What is the meaning of
our lives?” We dedicate our lives to protect-
ing the health of our communities through
education while fulfilling our job responsibil-
ities. This question caused me to reflect upon
what I have learned while working for local
environmental health agencies and while
working with extraordinarily competent and
compassionate environmental health profes-
sionals during the span of nearly 30 years.
It became much more of a query about what
being an environmental health professional
means to each of us as we dedicate our lives
to it every day. It would seem intuitive that
this discussion would first lead us toward the
topics of credentials, certifications, and tech-
nical competencies. Although technical com-
petence is an absolute priority, I would like
to share a few insights and lessons learned
over the years from many of you, which I
believe are important elements of being an
environmental health professional and are
not unique to our profession. Because we
practice environmental health, each of the
concepts mentioned below have greater sig-
nificance when connected with the technical
elements of our jobs.
If you take a moment to look
back one, three, five, or 10 years, you will
easily identify several changes in your work
environment—organizational chart, pro-
grams gained and lost, technology, resources,
and political climate. Reaching success in our
rapidly changing environment necessitates
being ready, willing, and able to adapt. This
also requires anticipating what is ahead.
Identifying your partners
or stakeholders and establishing lines of
communication are helpful in achieving com-
mon environmental health goals. Partners or
stakeholders may include industry groups,
special interest groups, governing bodies,
or other agencies. Joining with partners can
be extremely beneficial as it facilitates com-
munication between the parties, builds trust,
and allows opportunities for the stakeholders
to educate one another. Overall, the partners
will have a vested interest in positive out-
comes for the protection and betterment of
our communities.
Commitment and Dedication:
our field is so vast and dynamic, it definitely
requires an individual to be dedicated to con-
tinuing education, self-study, and often going
the extra mile to provide excellent customer
service. It may take the form of a project that
needed extensive review or writing a public
health message for the media that required
perfection in order to avoid misinterpretation
by consumers. Hopefully, your ongoing com-
mitment stems from the internal reward and
satisfaction of knowing that you are working
toward a goal of disease prevention and envi-
ronmental protection.
So often our jobs call for
delivering messages that are unpopular. This
is when our own competency and ability to
relay public health information in a respect-
ful and compassionate manner to a member
of the business community or the public is
crucial. As educators, it is also important to
explain the logic behind the requirement to
assist them with understanding their role in
protecting customers and the public. Taking
the extra step to understand your customer
and having compassion for their difficult
predicament will be helpful to you and the
It became much
more of a query
about what being
an environmental
health professional
means to each of
us as we dedicate
our lives to it
every day.
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