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Dr. Berry Interview PAPER.docx

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Dr. Berry Interview PAPER.docx

  1. 1. Emily Bundy Leadership Interview Leading Through Fire: Igniting the Passion to Fight “We have an obligation to do good in the world and seek change when you see something that needs attention” (Berry, 2022). Growing up under the Jesuit framework, Dr. Allison Berry has made it her life’s passion and work to serve the vulnerable in the capacity of clinical medicine and public health. Currently, she serves as the health officer for both Clallam and Jefferson counties in Washington. After accepting the position in 2018, her scope and influence exploded with the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic and her subsequent battle to protect Clallam and Jefferson counties. Originally, she moved to Clallam County in 2016 to work as a family physician with the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe as she was especially interested in medicine for underserved populations, having completed a medical residency rotation in tribal healthcare. Passionate about healthcare since her childhood, she was especially called to serve after losing her grandmother, her main caretaker, to colon cancer at age 11. Viewing healthcare throughout that time, Dr. Berry was struck by the good and the bad, the empathetic and the transactional encounters that she experienced. She made it a goal to do it better as a provider herself. Trying to satisfy all of her passions, she pursued both music and biomedical engineering in college. Medicine always resonated strongly, however, as she was an active volunteer in a free clinic and performed esophageal research. Ultimately, she became frustrated with medical access barriers and felt pursuing primary care would be the best avenue. During medical school at John’s Hopkins University, Dr. Berry became fascinated by the realities of public health in seeing the disparities of medicine through the lens of the opioid epidemic of Baltimore. She immediately pursued a
  2. 2. combined medical and masters of public health degree, satisfying her desire to integrate medicine and public health in her career. Furthermore, she had come to realize the benefit of understanding the social implications of wellness -public health- in being an equitable and informed provider. In turn, practicing family medicine has helped her to be a better steward of public health in her community. Being from Clallam County, wanting to pursue a career in public health, and witnessing her immense leadership through the chaos and vitriol of the pandemic personally, having a conversation with Dr. Berry myself aligned perfectly with the sentiments of this assignment. Dr. Berry did not recite an articulated hard and fast definition for leadership. She recalled never having sought roles of leadership until she was chosen to be the incident commander for the pandemic in Clallam County. However, throughout our conversation, the engrained leadership values and practices that she has implemented into her life’s work became prominently understood. Her passion boils down to service, leading and living with a service orientation. As stated in Your Leadership Edge, “Your actual core values are revealed in your behavior” (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). The crux of both Dr. Berry’s clinical and community health roles lies in serving the most vulnerable in our community. Fueled by her self-obligation to do good in the world, she melded the capacity to authentically pursue leading from a place of service in both her clinical and community practices. Leading within a social justice and sociologically informed framework, the simplicity of her career goals struck me, “be an ethical leader” (Berry, 2022). Within her example of advocacy for the marginalized and ostracized in Clallam County, and the role she adopted amidst the pandemic, it is clear that she is fulfilling to her purpose masterfully.
  3. 3. Dr. Berry was very transparent with me. Currently she is the only female public health officer in the state of Washington, and is by far the youngest. Upon first glance or introduction, Dr. Berry appears introverted, reserved, and soft-spoken. Paradoxically, the insights that she shared and the example that she portrayed to my home community and even the nation are nothing but confident, articulate, impassioned, and service-oriented. One of the greatest truths that I extruded from our conversation was her life’s motivation, “Do you have the courage to do the right thing, even if it is not popular? Are you willing to risk your position for the sake of the welfare of the people you are leading?” (Berry, 2022). During the pandemic, Dr. Berry was placed on the national stage for the hatred she was receiving from certain individuals in Clallam County. As the purveyor of mask mandates, business closures, and vaccine distribution, the public’s fury through hate speech and death threats filled her inbox daily. The New York Times highlighted these events in Clallam County as the headline of their article, Why Public Health Faces a Crisis Across the U.S., “Dr. Berry should be attacked on sight…we are coming for you…[bring] back public hangings,” to which she responded, “the places where it is most needed to put in more stringent measures, it’s the least possible to do it…either because you’re afraid you’re going to get fired, or you’re afraid you’re going to get killed. Or both” (Baker and Ivory, 2021). Throughout her physical and emotional demolition, however, Dr. Berry stood by her intention to fight, turning up the heat when it was not popular, risking her position and public appeal as the health officer for the sake of the most vulnerable in the community. “Leadership requires…attention to heat. You need enough energy around an issue to motivate people to do something differently. But too much heat can cause people to panic, fight, flee or shut down and ignore the situation” (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). Her fiery passion turned up the temperature
  4. 4. in Clallam County to a point that was challenging for some, motivating for others, while avoiding most community discouragement, as shown by the counties health metric success. Being physically present during the turmoil of the pandemic in Clallam County, I was intrigued by the ways in which Dr. Berry was able to balance public appeal and ridicule with her own value of self-worth: how she managed self. As stated in Your Leadership Edge, “A wiser path may be to lean into our vulnerabilities, acknowledging them and embracing them” (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). Without explicitly asking, Dr. Berry naturally discussed the coping mechanisms she learned to employ during times of fire. Throughout the pandemic, a large portion of her job was determining precedent public health edicts, the myriad of coordination of community players to portray a unified response, followed by educating the public through public forums and press releases. Whether standing on a literal stage or in a crowd outside of the courthouse guarded by sheriffs, she would be bombarded with ridicule, hate speech, and jeers with the expectation to turn around and respond stoically and with a reason for change. “You have to listen to what is productive feedback and what is maliciously personal, straining to understand the true underlying question” (Berry, 2022). She went on to illustrate some of the ways in which she tried to bring light and personal value to those damaging moments: positive notes such as “It will be okay” on top of the paper on her podium, a picture of her 3 month old daughter to ground her in her motherly purpose, the “why” behind her dedication to the work amidst adversity. Clallam County residents should have been dying at much higher rates, but were not. I was struck by the semblance of calm that she portrayed, her ability to graciously distinguish between productive and destructive commentary, and the prioritization she maintained throughout strife towards serving the most vulnerable in our community.
  5. 5. In both her position as a family physician and as the county health officer, Dr. Berry focuses her work on the motivation and upliftment of her team. Despite her authority, it was clear that she truly believed that the success of the public health presence as a whole was contingent upon the passion and support of her peers. “Bringing humanity to the team, being personal and connected, helps to maintain a camaraderie of culture,” said Dr. Berry. While she alluded to following a strict get the work done model, the emphasis on a non-hierarchical group structure in which “no work is above or below anyone else” epitomized the example she wished to portray as a leader. “I would never expect anyone of my colleagues or employees to do something that I would not do” (Berry, 2022). She also made it a priority to engage unusual voices. As stated in Your Leadership Edge, “true progress isn’t made without them [unusual voices] because people whose voices aren’t usually heard see important things others don’t or because some of the work actually belongs to them” (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). She provided me with a powerful example to portray this sentiment. Within her office, she proudly believes that the most diligent and cordial of the contact tracing staff is a woman in the midst of heroin recovery without any formal education past middle school. The structures that typically define success and mastery in society today are limiting of the true potential certain individuals have that are often silenced. “Why not uplift them and utilize their talents?” Dr. Berry questions. I was inspired by her desire to use challenging moments for education, not condemnation. Fostering a community of shared trust at her office “doesn’t mean there’s an absence of tension. Rather, it’s by working through the tension that people make progress” (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). The importance of trust in community culture was made specifically evident to me within the scope of her interaction with the Mam people. The Mam are a small Guatemalan community, however comprise over 35% of the population in Forks, WA, a blue collar, fading lumber town.
  6. 6. In seeking vaccine acceptance she was faced with an immense adaptive challenge- communicating with people through an interpreter whose foreign language was exclusively oral, not written. Instead of assuming defeat, she noticed the necessity to build trust and welcome with the people. Only after a series of solely community building encounters did she introduce topics regarding pandemic health. Dr. Berry tackled the health of this community as an adaptive challenge, one in which learning for both parties was necessary, the collaboration was experimental, the expectation was to make progress together, and the underlying tonality was an innate curiosity and care for one another (O’Malley and Cebula, 2015). Dr. Berry is a physically diminutive, yet dynamic, dedicated, ground-breaking provider and steward of public health. Her service-oriented style in the fight against covid and health disinformation in Clallam County has further inspired me to pursue my career goals in public health and medicine, serving the vulnerable and marginalized in the current and future communities I reside. Ideals of leading through adversity, pursuing the common good, and working for justice will stay with me as I encounter times of challenge, reinforcing the importance of maintaining personal integrity while pursuing goals that may not always be the most socially palatable.
  7. 7. References Baker, M., & Ivory, D. (2021, October 18). Why public health faces a crisis across the U.S. The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/us/coronavirus-public-health.html Berry, A. (2022, September 20). Personal communication [Personal interview]. O'Malley, E., & Cebula, A. (2015). Your leadership edge: Lead anytime, anywhere. KLC Press, Kansas Leadership Center.

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