Spotlight on Dr. Valerie Yeager

The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice welcomes Dr. Valerie Yeager to its editorial board. Dr. Yeager is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Indiana University’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis. Before joining the Fairbanks School of Public Health, Dr. Yeager was an Assistant Professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, LA. She holds a DrPH and MPH from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Masters in Philosophy (MPhil) from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Prior to completing her DrPH, Dr. Yeager was a Lister Hill Policy Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. She has experience conducting research and projects both domestically and internationally. Her work broadly focuses on health care and public health systems. Within the field of Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR) specifically, Dr. Yeager is interested in public health accreditation, organizational leadership and training, recruiting, and retaining the public health workforce. Other research interests generally align with issues of health care quality such as access to care, care coordination, and use and impacts of health information technology.

JPHMP Direct intern Haley Cornwell had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Yeager about her career path, her recent research published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, and her new role on the JPHMP editorial board.

JPHMP Direct: You received your master’s degree at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. What inspired you to continue your education outside of the United States? How was your experience living outside of the country?

Dr. Yeager: I wanted to participate in the response to HIV/AIDS in South Africa. I was able to get involved in a pilot clinic project in a township outside of Cape Town. We were trying to show that the traditional 1 physician/1 nurse public clinic model was sufficient to successfully treat and provide antiretrovirals to people living with HIV/AIDS. The work was important and I loved living there. Cape Town remains my favorite city still today.

JPHMP Direct: Upon receiving your DrPH, you were a Lister Hill Policy Fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a recent undergraduate, I am interested in knowing how you learned about and received the fellowship and whether you have recommendations for graduates who are interested in pursuing similar opportunities.

Dr. Yeager: The Lister Hill Policy Fellowship was offered through a policy center at UAB, where I was studying at the time. It is unfortunately no longer available, but there are various internships and fellowships with public health practice agencies at the local, state, and federal levels.

JPHMP Direct: How did working in the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the CDC impact your research interests or contribute to your expertise?

Dr. Yeager: Since high school, I thought I wanted to eventually work at the CDC, so having a fellowship in the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine was very exciting. It also allowed me to continue working in the realm of public health preparedness. However, I also had a job offer supporting research projects in my former department at UAB’s School of Public Health and they encouraged me to enroll in the doctoral program, which I knew I wanted to do, so I went back and had the most fulfilling doctoral training experience I could have imagined.

JPHMP Direct: You hold degrees in anthropology and journalism. Does that coursework tie into your current work in healthcare management and policy in any way?

Dr. Yeager: Indeed! My background in anthropology grounds in me the study of people and how we live within cultures, including organizations. My early qualitative research foundation started with anthropological fieldwork. My journalism degree was focused on scientific writing and in particular, HIV/AIDS interventions in South Africa. That experience is what led me to continue my training in the field of public health and it helped me develop as a writer.

JPHMP Direct: In your recent article, “Maintaining a Competent Public Health Workforce: Lessons Learned from Experiences with Public Health Accreditation Domain 8 Standards and Measures,” you and your colleagues cite the need for more evidence regarding best practices in the accreditation process. Why, and why specifically within the workforce development domain?

Dr. Yeager: Anecdotally, I have spoken with individuals in workforce development that have described innovative responses to some of the challenges in recruiting and retaining competent and inspired public health employees. However, much of the depth of these innovations is not captured in the form/data itself – they may be described in their workforce development plans, but that was not included in what we reviewed for the study. It is my opinion that these innovations around recruitment and retention need to be studied and shared as examples for other agencies.

JPHMP Direct: Why does measure 8.1.1 of the PHAB Standards and Measures require health departments seeking accreditation to “encourage the development of a sufficient number of qualified public health workers”?

Dr. Yeager: There are a number of reasons including the need to fill ongoing vacancies in the workforce, the need to retain valuable existing employees, and the need to prepare for the impending retirement of a large portion of the public health workforce. Additionally, public health is at its best when the workforce is qualified for the work it is doing, so assessing workforce training needs and then training for those needs is important to efficient and effective agencies and improved practice.

JPHMP Direct: Is there any significance to the fact that local health department internship programs with schools of public health were related to higher scores for the measure than a variety of other activities?

Dr. Yeager: As you read, internships were extremely common among respondents. We discuss this point in the paper, but a crucial point we were unable to examine is how valuable internships are to recruitment. Public health agencies can host internships upon internships, but if they are not meaningful to the agency or valuable as a recruitment tool, then that’s important to know. We have no sense how many people who complete internships go on to take a permanent position in a public health agency. Without this information, we do not know if hosting internships helps to meet the goal of the measure. We also do not know what we need to change about internships to make them more valuable to the agency or the trainees.

JPHMP Direct: The Journal of Public Health Management and Practice will soon celebrate its 25th anniversary. What has the journal meant to your work as it relates to public health policy and practice?

Dr. Yeager: JPHMP is what I think of as my “home” journal. This is where I believe my work reaches the greatest number of practitioners and individuals who can influence policy at the various levels of public health practice. It’s also the journal that my fellow public health services and systems researchers are reading, so I know my work has an opportunity to contribute to what we are all working towards – more efficient and effective systems and ultimately a healthier population.

JPHMP Direct: How do you see JPHMP evolving to meet emerging needs of scientists, policy makers, and practitioners over the next 25 years?

Dr. Yeager: Having just joined the board, I am mostly listening and thinking about what my fellow board members have to say about the Journal’s future. I do believe that public health policy and the management of public health organizations has to be the root of the work published in the Journal, even if the topical issues for public health change over time.

JPHMP Direct: Thanks for your time, Dr. Yeager. It’s a pleasure working with you on the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice.  

Read more of Dr. Yeager’s work in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice*:

*Articles may require a subscription to JPHMP or purchase.