Dr. Jan Lee Santos is a lifelong learner who finds opportunity in crisis.
What’s your role in public health?
I am the associate director of Training and Clinical Services at Piedmont Health Services, a federal qualified health center that operates 10 health centers and 12 senior care centers. These centers serve about 45,000 people in North Carolina, who are mostly uninsured or underinsured and live in Alamance, Caswell, Chatham and Orange counties. My primary duties include developing and implementing training programs for clinical support staff and students so they can be integrated seamlessly into both administrative and clinical care teams. I also co-lead on-site, community and mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination services.
In addition, I hold academic appointments at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC’s School of Medicine, Campbell University and Wake Tech Community College. These roles have allowed me to host and provide internship and practicum experiences for students and teach hybrid and online courses on the basic sciences, health care management and public health.
I am also an alum of the Gillings School! I graduated in 2017 with a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) degree from the Department of Health Policy and Management.
Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?
For the past year and a half, my main focus has been synergizing all the different hats I wear and roles I have taken. I am an administrator, front line worker, educator and learner.
As an administrator, I was involved in creating workflows and developing and systems to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to our community.
My clinical experience allowed me to join the front lines and eventually lead teams providing COVID related services.
As an educator, I was responsible for training the staff who provided these services, which eventually became an avenue to include students and allow them to help out during the pandemic. My academic appointment provided a platform to recruit and train students and integrate them to support our COVID testing and vaccine teams. The student workforce became crucial in increasing our capacity to provide services at a time when workers were in limited supply.
Lastly, the pandemic provided numerous opportunities for collaboration. We formed working relationships with different health departments, the Army National Guard and the N.C. Office of Rural Health. We also formed close partnerships with the UNC Infectious Disease Department, El Vinculo, the General Baptist State Convention of N.C., and numerous churches and housing authorities. This allowed me to learn from a multitude of individuals holding positions at the local, state, national and international levels of governance. I was recently accepted as a board member for the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Carrboro, N.C., which I hope will further my involvement in local public health.
What brought you to public health?
I actually think that public health found me. As I reflect back on my previous experiences, I feel I was unknowingly prepared to be in the field.
During college, I spent a lot of time in the lab and got used to studying and memorizing complex systems and workflows. This is synonymous to the complexity of workflows involved in providing health care. I then spent three years teaching high school science courses at Pembroke, which is located in Robeson County, N.C. Robeson County is considered a medically underserved and rural region of the state and more than 68% of the population are American Indian, Black or Hispanic.
During medical school, I lived in the Caribbean Island of Dominica, which allowed me to see how health care is provided in an island nation. I completed clinical rotations in the United States and the United Kingdom, which allowed me to see the differences between a fee-for-service, mostly privatized health care system and a universal, socialized system. When I entered the MHA program at UNC, the curricular focus was on how to create systems to provide health care for many; this resonated with me. I went down the path of public health and never looked back.
To this day, I am still amazed with the diversity of the field and how individuals of varying educational backgrounds work together to solve public health problems.
How have you pivoted in response to the coronavirus pandemic?
When there is crisis, there is opportunity.
Prior to the pandemic, I spent most of my time at our corporate office in Chapel Hill, where I trained and integrated clinical support staff, performed data analysis, and design and implemented quality improvement projects. Now, I spend more time in the field and work more closely with health center staff.
The pandemic gave me a reason to join the front lines. I became involved in creating workflows that followed CDC guidelines, which allowed us to serve patients inside and outside our health centers. I then became the one completing those workflows, since some staff opted to stay home.
I joined the initial COVID-19 testing efforts, then began co-leading the COVID testing and, eventually, co-led the vaccination teams. I went from trainer to worker in a span of one month and now work alongside the staff that I trained. This has made me a better trainer, since I am now seeing firsthand the problems and barriers that can prevent someone from doing their job efficiently.
In addition, being proactive and flexible eventually led to a promotion, progressive leadership roles and staff to manage. I took over the medical scribes, and the team has doubled in size since the pandemic began. Lastly, being both in the front lines and office made it easier for me to provide meaningful internship and practicum experiences for students.
Who are you when you’re at home?
I am an avid learner. For the past year, I have been reading books and watching YouTube videos regarding financial literacy, investing and generating passive income. My favorites include Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and Unshakeable by Tony Robbins. And I cannot leave out The Warren Buffet Way by Robert Hagstrom!
I also like to play tennis and basketball, and I recently took up golf. Lastly, I am a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and will be testing for 3rd degree in May 2022.
Read more interviews in The Pivot series.