October 15, 2017


Anna Schenck, PhD
Professor of the Practice
Director, Public Health Leadership Program
Associate Dean for Practice


Q: What do you tell your students about how to prepare to be leaders in public health?

A: I tell them that public health is a team sport – it’s by no means something one does alone. Public health requires personal vision and strategizing, but it also demands collaboration. It takes leadership skills to craft a vision and strategic plan that is shared by others – and those same skills to solicit the collaboration needed to implement the strategies that will accomplish public health goals.

Students in the Gillings School’s Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP) are a special breed. Unlike other valuable leadership training programs at the School, such as the health policy and management Doctor of Public Health program, we don’t actively recruit people in leadership positions. We look for bright, passionate students who want to learn leadership skills.

I tell our students they will have many opportunities to be public health leaders – not only in their careers, but also as part of their families, faiths and communities. Everyone can – and will need to be – a leader in defense of public health.

Q: How has your approach to leadership changed since you became a chair at the Gillings School?

A: When I came to the Gillings School in 2009, I did not have any academic experience (other than having been a student for many years). However, I was asked to lead an academic unit, and later, to lead practice and outreach efforts for the School. I always leaned toward a more collaborative leadership approach, but this has become even more important during my time at the Gillings School because I came in from the “practice world” and had different career experiences than the people I was leading. I found myself relying on their expertise.

Q: What characteristics are most important in public health leaders today?

A: When I try to define good leadership, I think more in terms of actions than characteristics. As I said before, I believe that everyone can be a leader – there aren’t “traits” with which a leader is born. The important actions include helping to create a common vision, engaging others to work toward the vision, helping create a sense of community by encouraging others, helping others develop and recognizing others’ contributions. These actions define great leadership.


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Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.