The Executive-in-Residence: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

by Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

The Dean’s Perspective focuses on issues pertinent to the relationship between academic public health and the practice community.

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

This month we hired our first Executive-in-Residence for the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M. Mr. Dennis Johnson joined us part-time after a long, distinguished career as a health and safety officer in the oil and gas industry. He will serve alongside Mr. Jack Buckley, a former health system executive. Together, our two Executives-in-Residence will bring a lifetime of real-world experience in jobs that are typically not held by PhDs to the School of Public Health.

One of the continuing struggles in academic public health is that the vast majority of our faculty has almost no real-world, frontline public health experience. Especially at the elite universities, we recruit faculty who are great researchers and hopefully solid teachers but probably have never worked in public health practice. This makes training the next generation of MPH/MHA students exceptionally difficult. In my 16 years of public health higher education experiences, I’ve noticed that we are good at training PhDs, or junior versions of ourselves, but not so good at training practitioners. And why would we be?

I was lucky early in my career to be joined at the hip with the Hawaii Department of Health. From 2000-2015, we had a joint project called the Healthy Hawaii Initiative. Not a week went by that I couldn’t be found at the health department working on some aspect of the initiative. I also had the good fortune of serving 8 years on the State Board of Health as both the chair and vice chair. These experiences were eye-opening. The constraints, bureaucracy, and politics all shaped the job. The daily realities of hiring, contracting, and reporting limited what could be done and how things got done. I realized that a lot of what we were teaching in the classroom was never going to be translated into the field because the environment was not supportive of it. I also realized that much of what our students needed to be able to do was not taught in the classroom. It became apparent that we needed to do a better job of getting practitioners into the classroom and into the curriculum.

The Executive-in-Residence program provides a mechanism for bringing real-world experience into schools of public health. Most of this happens outside of the classroom. Our executives come with a huge list of contacts they can bring into the school to give lectures; meet students; and provide practicum, fellowship, and job opportunities. Through seminars, small groups, and one-on-one meetings, they provide insight into the job market and what to expect beyond graduation. Executives can come from many fields and may include policy makers, nonprofit CEOs, health department employees, and experts from other areas of public health. I have been so impressed with the benefits that the students and the school have received from these positions, that I would like all of our departments to have this type of position. I hope that this soon becomes the norm for schools of public health.

For further reading, consider these related articles from the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice:

Jay E. Maddock, PhD is the Dean of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on over $18 million in extramural funding and authored over 100 scientific articles. [Full Bio]