Waking Up Behind the Wheel of Environmental Health Management

Article excerpt

The following is a reply to Steve Tackitt's President's Message published in the July August 1995 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health entitled, "The Big Picture...Where Are You?" Rather than bog down in heavy text, I hope you'll enjoy my bulletized big picture.

I WAS ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL

Having become an environmental health manager, I was essentially asleep to many of the possibilities and opportunities available to us. I was still focused on the trees, rather than the forest. I found myself constantly reacting to the clamor of daily urgencies, rather than the more important overall direction of our EH programs and their commensurate health improving value for the community.

* Endogenous suspicions. I completed all of the available on-the-job training for supervisors and managers, yet a little voice inside was saying, "I think there may be more to it (Environmental Health Management) than this..."

* Exogenous accusations. You may recall a series of Journal articles and letters on "The Failure of Sanitarians." I took them personally. While I find many of the Journal writings interesting, calling me a failure really got my undivided attention. I took Dr. Tom Hatfield's writings seriously because I think they contained some "essential truths" and clues to missed opportunities for growth. This was another wake-up call for me.

WAKING UP BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A FAST-MOVING VEHICLE

I once got a traffic ticket for failure to pay full time and attention. You see, there was this very good-looking pedestrian crossing the road, and in my diligence, I failed to notice the car that had stopped in front of me to make a left turn. "But your Honor, I was paying full time and attention; it was just to the wrong thing!!" This is symbolic of my career as well, i.e., I was paying attention all along, but I allowed my focus to be too narrow at times to include other essential emerging issues Rapid evolution is what makes environmental health fun, but it is also what makes it challenging to navigate.

* Environmental Health Management [LD.sub.50]s. Responding to the little voice inside, I began to study management theory in night school. I began to wake up to a whole world of things that I was doing that can be deemed Environmental Health Management [LD.sub.50]s. Just as surely as there's a specific dose of a toxic substance that will kill 50% of a test animal population, so are there management toxins which, if repeated in sufficient quantity, will kill 50% of our environmental health practitioner population if we continue to do them. These are mindsets exhibited in statements like "We can't help you with that," "It isn't in my job description," "I'm only doing my job," "Budgets are for administrators, " "We try to stay out of politics around here," etc. These are just a few of the things we were doing daily to significantly underwhelm our customers with effective service.

REGAINING CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE

* Acres of diamonds. An African farmer sold his farm to follow his glistening dream of prospecting for and finding naturally occurring African diamonds. After many years of unsuccessful searching, he died. It was found later that the streams on the farm he had sold contained acres of diamonds. I have tended to automatically define my career direction as going to other farms, and yet since waking up I've noticed that my backyard is glistening with opportunity.

BECOMING ONE WITH THE ROAD

* Turning on my headlights--reticular activating systems (RAS). Have you ever noticed that once you set out to study an issue, you begin to see it everywhere? According to behavioral psychologist Anthony Robbins, RAS is the automatic human psychological response which causes us to notice things in our environment because of subconscious scanning, that we didn't notice previously. And so it is with applying management principles to environmental health practices. …