Chambers and Melmed Interviews

Mervyn Chambers used to have a career that was completely unrelated to public health. Now he’s keeping an eye on both clinical and public health services for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, making sure that this American Indian community’s health is in good hands. How did he get there? He shared how volunteering and being open to possibilities put him on the right career path.

"Back in the 1980s, I worked in the planning department for a large insurance company: analyzing statistics, creating budgets, and planning for location expansion." We would write proposals for new locations, and they would have to be convincing enough to get the company to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to open up new offices.

Meanwhile, my wife was a social worker at an agency that included a focus on delinquency and dropout prevention. As she would share her work experiences with me, I found a keen interest in mental health and was considering a change in careers. Eventually, I offered to volunteer at her agency to assist in designing new programs. I volunteered for 6 months, beginning by interviewing mental health practitioners and asking them for their recommendations about how to start a unique delinquency/ dropout prevention program. After designing the program, we needed money to make it happen. So I took my skills from the insurance company job and proceeded to learn how to write grants! Our new program was perceived as meeting a critical need in the community and my grant applications secured sufficient monies to launch the program. On the strength of that effort, I got a reputation as a successful grant writer, and that helped me to get a job as the grants manager at the Seattle Indian Health Board in 1991.

That happened to be the same year my daughter was born, and I started getting involved with March of Dimes walkathons. A few years later, I started a walkathon for the Seattle Indian Health Board, to raise money to prevent and treat substance abuse. That led to my degree in non-profit leadership, because on that walkathon, a colleague mentioned that he had just been recruited for the Seattle University Visiting Committee, which encourages and mentors people through graduate school. He suggested I go for the graduate program. Then, after I finished the program, he asked me to join his organization’s board. Those experiences have led to many more good connections, and that’s how I’ve found my more recent jobs. I’ve served as the Director of Planning for a community health center, directed a mental health and chemical dependency treatment agency, and now I’m the Health Director at the Lower Elwha Health Clinic.

Mervyn Chambers, MNPL
Health Director, Lower Elwha Health Clinic
Port Angeles, Wash.

Mel Melmed had barely finished graduate school when she found a job as a public health nurse at a county health department, and now she’s leading the formation of a health department and managing a major public health grant on an American Indian reservation in rural Washington. What skills did she use to land the jobs she wanted? In addition to experience and networking, she honed in on the practicalities of the job search.

"I had some work experience as a nurse before I went back to school for an MSN/MPH program." After I got my first nursing degree, I did sexual assault prevention education. Then I did community health nursing for 7 years with an Indian tribe. When I was finishing graduate school, I knew I wanted to work in an environment where I could get mentoring, so that I could continue to build my new public health skills. Many health departments and foundations will send out emails when jobs are available, so I signed up for a lot of those listservs, and I would regularly search different counties’ websites for available jobs. Another strategy I’ve always used is to look at descriptions of jobs I was interested in, and use some of that terminology in my resume and cover letter. There are certain words and phrases that employers seem to look for, that can help them see you as a good match for the job. 

After earning my MPH/MSN, I worked a Public Health Nurse with Public Health — Seattle King County. I found the job online. It was actually the first job I applied for! I did also apply for a job as the executive director of an organization, but I never even heard back from them. I think that was too much of a reach, since I didn’t have the managerial experience. The job I got, I chose specifically because I thought it would be a good follow-up to school and really solidify my skills. I worked in the immunization program. I answered immunization and vaccine questions from providers and community members, and I helped monitor immunization rates and perceptions about immunizations. I stayed there for two years. A colleague from a former job recruited me for the job I have now — he would call me every time he heard about an opening that would move me closer to home. Using your connections can be another great strategy. Let them know what you are doing and that you are getting ready to make a move. It doesn’t have to mean sitting down and emailing or calling everyone. For me, it was a loose process. Every time I ran into someone who might be able to help, I would let them know I was looking.

Mel Melmed, MSN, MPH
Public Health Specialist, Sophie Trettevick Indian Health Center
Neah Bay, Wash.


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