Another Look at Tsunami + Epiphany

OK, Steve, I’ll take up your word, “epiphanami.” You’re right about all the positive connotations of a sweeping new way of seeing the world, a “tidal wave” of shared inspiration and motivation.

However, it also behooves us to look at the other side of things, if only because a lot of people in public health are afraid that the “epiphanami” of “thinking like a business person” about public health issues will destroy the field. They may not want to change the way they – or their stakeholders – think about public health because they may worry that the new way of thinking will make them answerable to a new set of private stakeholders. Tsunamis do, after all, bring annihilation to what was stable, staid, predictable, land. So how do we answer these doubters?

One thing to say is that the epiphanami is the effect, not the cause, of the upheaval affecting public health right now. As Professor Johnson points out, the earthquake going on in the middle of the sea is economic pressures, changing demographics, new demands for sustainability from granting organizations, changing political priorities – a host of things beyond the control of local public health. As public health professionals, we can either run for the hills to get out of the way, or we can accept the reality of the situation and work with it.

Better yet, we can embrace the situation! Build a boat and sail in the water brought in by the storm. That’s the epiphany part! The inundation feels like a disaster until we realize that we have some control over the situation. Not every business is going to be a proper partner. But bringing business people with an interest in public health into your circle of influence will make public health stronger and richer. And, “running things like a business” does not mean running things like a bad business! It means learning how to plan what you need and then do a budget, as opposed to fitting what you do into someone else’s budget. It means recognizing that things cost money, that the money has to come from somewhere, and that you can sustain yourself if you plan carefully.