Liz Lord

Liz Lord learns her community’s needs and supports them.

Number 1What’s your role in public health? 

My official title is the deputy health director in Nash County. I’ve been here just three months, but I see my role as understanding what our community’s needs are and establishing a plan to support those needs. The pandemic took a toll on people, and I think understanding the type of help that would be most useful is particularly important in the present moment.  

We are beginning a community health assessment process at the Nash County Health Department. I’m excited to learn what people think the most pressing health needs are and then work together with them to make a plan to best support health.  

Number 2Can you describe your focus area in one sentence? 

My focus is improving access to health for residents of Nash County and Eastern North Carolina while constantly asking questions about equity.

I previously worked in pediatrics as a physician’s assistant (PA). I loved my patients and their families. I enjoyed seeing them out and about in the community and establishing deep, meaningful relationships. In terms of impact, though, that felt like painting with a small, detailed brush. Now that I’m in public health, I can work with a bigger brush and paint broader strokes across the community.

I feel like I really found my place — a place where my efforts can serve more people and hopefully bring to light issues in the community that some folks aren’t even aware of. In former roles at the clinic and working for the YMCA, I learned a lot about the challenges people face. Now, I’m working to address some of those challenges and make better health more accessible for all. 

Number 3What brought you to public health? 

It’s been a long route! I graduated from college and went to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Sexually Transmitted Diseases Hotline. I really enjoyed talking with people about their health. My mom was a nurse, so I thought I might pursue that next, but then my supervisor at the CDC recommended going to school to become a PA. I went that route and worked as a PA for many years.

When my family relocated to Nash County for my husband’s job, I began working in a pediatric clinic and started to run up against what I now know as the social determinants of health. These were health issues that I wasn’t able to help people with in the office. For example, one family had multiple family members with asthma and lived in a house heated with a wood stove. I was able to provide them with inhalers, but I wasn’t able to solve the root cause of their breathing problems.

I started looking into public health work around then, but at that point in my life, I wasn’t able to make a residential Master of Public Health program work. I ended up leaving clinical practice to become a director at the YMCA, where I worked on public health issues such as access to exercise, healthy living and food. Then, when the pandemic hit, I found out about the online MPH@UNC program. I haven’t looked back!

I entered the public health field because of my local community, so I knew that working in local public health was something I was interested in. At the Gillings School, I learned about many incredible opportunities — but once I completed my practicum here, at the local health department in Nash County, I was committed. We have a great team of people, and I’m able to work on some of the same issues that I’ve been addressing in Nash County for the last 10+ years, like food and housing insecurity. There’s so much good work to do! 

Number 4Can you describe a time when you have pivoted in your public health career?  

Nash County high school students hand out produce boxes, masks and hand sanitizer at a drive-through.

Lord and Nash County collaborated with with Southern Nash High School and the ESL and Migrant Ed programs to hand out produce boxes, masks and hand sanitizer to families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since I’ve only been at the health department for a few months, every day is a bit of a pivot, but I made an even bigger pivot during the pandemic.

As we were finishing up the YMCA’s strategic planning process in February 2020, almost every conversation had something to do with food, so we knew that we would be working with food in some capacity in the coming years. The following month, COVID-19 arrived and the facility shut down. I was tasked with taking the food idea and running with it.

There were people falling through the cracks of current organizations, so we worked with other community partners to fill that gap by delivering produce and pantry boxes to people who were food insecure or lacked access to regular transportation. We delivered almost 100,000 pounds of food in the first nine months! We were getting food from all over the place, and we packed the buses that we usually used to transport children with produce instead and delivered it around the community. It was challenging and exciting at the same time! 

Number 5Who are you when you’re at home? 

I’m a mom, wife and daughter, and I spend a fair amount of time doing those things. Much of it is divided between my kids and our German exchange student. I also have recently taken a deep dive into vegetarian cooking. I ran track in high school and college and there was a period of time when I was running marathons and ultramarathons, but I’ve recently pivoted and have started walking and biking instead. I recently became a crossword puzzler, too, which has been fun! 

Read more interviews in The Pivot series.

Published: April 3, 2024

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