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On the Job with Dr. Jacqueline Grant

Herald writer Jennifer Parks conducts a one-on-one interview with Dr. Jaqueline Grant from the Southwest Public Health District

Dr. Jacqueline Grant is the director of the Southwest Public Health District. She has been serving as the top public health official in Southwest Georgia since 2005. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Dr. Jacqueline Grant is the director of the Southwest Public Health District. She has been serving as the top public health official in Southwest Georgia since 2005. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Dr. Jacqueline Grant currently serves as the director of the Southwest Public Health District, making her the top official managing all public health programs within a 14-county, 6,000 square-mile radius. She has been in the position since 2005, serving before that as the medical director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. She was on the faculty at Emory University and the Morehouse School of Medicine prior to working in the private sector as an obstetrician for three years.

The Jacqueline Grant File

NAME: Jacqueline Grant

POSITION: District Health Director, Southwest Public Health District

AGE: 52

FAMILY: Married for 31 years to Steve Alan Grant Sr. Two sons, Steve Jr. and Michael

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science from East Carolina University (after transferring from the Georgia Institute of Technology), medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine (after transferring from East Carolina), a master’s in public health from the University of Alabama in Birmingham and a master’s in public administration from Harvard University. She did her medical residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University.

ACCOLADES: Received national recognition in “Best Doctors of America, 2003-2004,” and was the recipient of the 2012 Tee Rae Dismukes Award

Under her direction, there has been an interactive work site wellness program implemented as well as the establishment of the non-profit known as Friends of Southwest Georgia Public Health. She has also presided over district restructuring and has provided guidance during disease outbreaks and natural disasters. In 2009, she was instrumental in launching a prenatal program in the district known as Centering Pregnancy — which she continues to be a frequent speaker on.

In a sit-down with Herald writer Jennifer Parks, Grant speaks of how she made the decision to go into obstetrics, her desire to be able to meet Harriet Tubman, how she has managed the public health district through the recession and why she would have chosen a career as a sports commentator had she not gone into medicine.

Q. What was your first job?

A. I worked at a Boys Club when I was 14 or 15. I had to get special permission because of the child labor laws. It was a summer job, and I loved it because I was such a tomboy. I was a basketball player, and there was a lot of basketball playing.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?

A. I couldn’t tell you, it was so long ago … but I can tell you I was a saver, so I probably didn’t spend all of it.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. I like to manage by walking around, making myself visible and more accessible. I also try to lead by example. I try not to ask employees for things I don’t do myself. That’s why I’m only a few of the health directors that sees patients. It keeps my clinical skills sharp, and it allows me to see things I wouldn’t see if I didn’t do it myself.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. I was on faculty at the University of Missouri, and I was on leave to do a fellowship in minority health policy. After that, I wanted to apply what I learned. I debated whether to go back to obstetrics and gynecology or to the faculty at the University of Missouri, but I wanted to be closer to family and my husband’s family is in Atlanta. It was an opportunity to apply what I had learned (from the fellowship).

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I’ve had so many. I aspired to be a surgeon general, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few. I met C. Everett Koop, and he signed the American Public Health Association book I have here in this office. I’ve also met (David) Satcher, Joycelyn Elders and had a brief encounter with Regina Benjamin. Some of these I’ve just heard speak.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the recent recession?

A. Resources are valuable. Your staff is your best asset. It is difficult to keep staff motivated when you can’t (offer financial incentive). You have to show your staff you appreciate them, even if you are unable to incentivize that work.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology — examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. — what would it be?

A. I really wouldn’t turn back the clock. What annoys me about email and text is that it takes the ability away for folks to communicate, but on the other hand, I use them both and I feel I use them effectively. I can’t deny it as a business tool; it is very effective and very efficient. I’m frustrated with it, but it is a way to communicate.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. Probably my computer.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. Christmas. I just love the time from Thanksgiving to the first of the year. There is a feeling in the air, and it is magical to me. It’s not just the day, but the whole season. People are different to me.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I read devotionals daily. I am often reading several books at one time. The last ones I read were “To Heaven and Back” by Dr. Mary C. Neal and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Now I’m reading “A Colored Woman in a White World” (by Mary Church Terrell).

Q. What is your morning routine?

A. I usually wake up before I get up, about 10-20 minutes before I get out of bed. I will pray, and my husband and I will talk for a few minutes and I start my routine. I flip through a few channels before I leave for work and listen to gospel on my way to work. I eat a light breakfast — cereal with soy or almond milk, yogurt or a cereal bar. I’m really hypoglycemic, so as soon as I wake up, I go straight to the kitchen.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?

A. Dead, I would have to say probably Harriet Tubman. She was so fearless. Just knowing her disability and what she had to do to overcome it is extraordinary. Alive, President Barack Obama because he is living history. He is the first black president, and no matter what you think of him, (the black population) didn’t think that would ever happen. What I think needs to be done (from a public health standpoint) is through coalition building, and it took an impressive coalition to elect him. It was from grassroots, and a lot of that is what we have to do to solve problems. The way his campaign was run, with the technology, I had never seen anything like that before.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love reading, and I also love antiquing. I love going to antique shops and flea markets. I enjoy exercising; last year I did my first 5K, and I would like to do training for that again. My other hobby is that I love to dance. Anybody who knows me knows I like to dance.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I can’t think of anything I’d take back. That doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets, but when I think of my decisions I made those decisions with all I had at the time. Now the bad things that have happened as a result of a decision have worked out; I found a trait in myself or in someone else I’m better for knowing. I’m the type of person who doesn’t have a problem making decisions. If I don’t like the decision, I know how to take a step back.

Q. Best and worst things about your job?

A. The best thing is when I can see a difference is being made in someone’s life. It may be an employee, patient or consumer. When I can see it is making a difference, that is the best thing. Fortunately, in this line of work, you see that often.

The worst is the meetings. Some meetings are great, but I’m sort of a doer and I’m a quick decision maker. I like things to move along, so my patience gets tested a bit. I’ve found I am better one-on-one than in meetings.

I don’t see why meetings bring out the worst in me. I think it’s a patience thing, and I’m trying to work on it … I am working on it; it is a daily walk for me.

Q. What was the most beneficial course you took in school?

A. You are asking someone who has been to so many different schools. If I were to go back to high school, I would say probably algebra. I love it, and I realized I had a knack for numbers. During my days at Georgia Tech, I’d say introduction to chemistry — where I developed analytical skills. In medical school, I would probably say pathology. It was the study of diseases, which I found fascinating. I almost went into the pathology.

I was torn between pathology, internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology. (I didn’t do pathology because) looking through the microscope and switching slides gave me motion sickness, and I’m a people person. I was then torn between internal medicine and OB-GYN, and with OB-GYN I realized I could make an impact not just on that woman’s life but the whole family.

While I working on my Masters in Public Administration, there was a class being taught by a physician on how to work in a group, and a class on minority policy. I can’t name one (class) because I’ve been to so many that have shaped me.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I think it would be a sports commentator — not just calling the game, but analyzing. Either that or interior design. When my husband is watching sports on TV, he has to tell me to be quiet. I usually say what they (eventually) say.

Q. Where do you see yourself on the first anniversary of your retirement?

A. Traveling somewhere on a beach.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. There are so many, but I’d have say the first one would be honesty. It is not just about being honest; the other thing is to look at things honestly.

Q. What kind of music do you most like listening to?

A. I listen to gospel, jazz fusion and R&B. I listen to everything, just about. I don’t like hard rock. I listen to soft rock, and I listen to soft rap but I don’t like hard rap. I grew up on R&B, so I love R&B. I don’t like hard rock, metal or country. I like a few country songs, but it is one of the genres I don’t listen to. I like classical; I grew up playing in marching band and concert band, so I listen to classical.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. I don’t know what the biggest change will be; I just don’t have my finger on that pulse. What I’d like to see in Albany within a year, or the near future, is unity. We are one of the most divided communities I’ve seen. I’d like to see some unity.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. To Spain for my 3oth wedding anniversary last year. It was beautiful, I was with my husband, it was lengthy and it was active. We went to Morocco for a day excursion and did a day layover in Paris, and I had never been to Paris.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. In public health, with budget issues, we have lost quite a few employees. There were 400 when I started here, and we are now down to 325. Budget challenges, changing positions and trying to make things work … I’ve seen good employees lose their jobs, but I’ve seen a lot of good things happen in public health such as teleconferencing abilities. We already using (teleconferencing) equipment at the Dougherty County Health Department, and that is something that is very forward moving. With the Centering movement, we are certainly moving in the right direction. The public/private partnerships are very crucial. There are some things as a public entity we cannot do, and the moment we can merge to the extent of what both can bring to the table (it does something for the community) .There are other avenues we can explore, but we will take the public health integration into health care.