Tatiana Dierwechter: Preceptor award recipient

Tatiana

Tatiana is a health policy and prevention manager for the Healthy Communities Program at Benton County Health Services. She will be honored with the Preceptor award at this year’s annual Ovation event, from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. More information and registration

Synergies: Tell me about yourself … where you grew up, what you wanted to be, anything that may have influenced your decision to pursue your particular career.

TD: I was originally born in Maten, Algeria, where my parents served as medical relief workers after the civil war with France in the early 1960’s. We moved back the US when I was five and I grew up in a small, rural farming community in Northwest Iowa, where my parents continued to work in the medical field, helping to open the first federally qualified health care center (FQHC) and staying actively involved in refugee and immigrant health issues. Their life experiences and commitment to service was no doubt the primary impetus for me choosing social work as profession and I completed my MSW at Boston University in the late 80’s.

I subsequently spent two years serving as a US Peace Corp Volunteer in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific and lived for 15 years in Wisconsin, working as the HIV prevention supervisor at the Wisconsin Division of Public Health during the time when HIV antiretroviral first became available, dramatically increasingly mortality of people living with HIV and requiring dramatic changes in policy, funding and services to address the HIV epidemic. This period is also where I learned about public health, which combined with my degree in social work, felt like coming home for me given the focus on social justice and addressing health disparities in communities. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I have also personally experienced the challenges of advocating for inclusion and responsive service systems on his behalf, which has also been a powerful reminder of the additional challenges many families face with far fewer resources in similar circumstances.

Synergies: What are you doing now? Why? What do you love about it? What challenges do you face and what keeps you going?

TD: I currently work as a health policy and prevention manager for the Healthy Communities Program at Benton County Health Services. Over the last 10 years in this role, I have worked to move the program from a traditional health promotion focus to a health policy and strategic planning unit that works to address the social determinants of health through community organizing and changing policies and systems that promote community health. This shift has required us to cross train our staff to work on issues such as housing, transportation and education. It’s exciting to see how the work we’re doing is being increasingly embraced by these other sectors as they see the benefits of a “health in all policies” approach.

Working in the public sector presents many challenges, primarily maintaining core funding for our staff and programs, especially for primary prevention and policy work, which is sometimes difficult to describe to funders and the public. This will be even more challenging in the next few years and will require heightened efforts to convene diverse partners, build coalitions, implement innovative funding and staffing models and coordinate common efforts.

Even on the hardest days, what keeps me going is working with some of the most talented, passionate and committed public health colleagues and community partners in the world! We are lucky to get paid to do what we love, working toward social justice and equity, to make sure everyone who lives, works, learns and plays in Benton County has equal access to all of the assets and amenities our diverse communities.

Synergies: Why host our interns? How does it benefit your organization? Them?

TD: Being literally in the backyard of OSU provides Benton County Health Department with unparalleled access to the brightest and most talented public health students in Oregon! Over the years, I have always included funding in grants for paid internships, which provides our interns with paid professional work experience that not only helps them build their resumes but also gives some financial resources to offset their other costs as students. I believe this has also been instrumental in helping us to recruit and support minority, bilingual and low income students who face additional barriers to successfully completing college. In addition to leveraging our staff capacity, we in turn have the opportunity to mentor and train the future public health workforce, and have seen all of our interns succeed in their respective careers over the years, which is immensely gratifying.