Teacher Spotlight: Katie Miller, health educator

July 27, 2021

Teacher Spotlight: Katie Miller, health educator

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Teacher Spotlight is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, with offices in Ludington, Pentwater, Shelby, Hart, Hesperia, Manistee, Montague, Whitehall, North Muskegon, and Fruitport. 

LUDINGTON – There are many types of educators in Mason County, but one that might be overlooked a lot is the role of a health educator. Katie (Moloney) Miller graduated from Ludington High School in 2006 and then went on to college with plans that eventually led to her becoming a health educator at the District 10 Health Department.

“After high school, I attended Hope College in Holland for my undergraduate degree, studying psychology and neuroscience,” Miller said. “I worked as an employment training specialist for adults with different abilities and had very loose plans of becoming an occupational therapist. But my interests at that time were so varied. I wanted to somehow be able to work in behavioral health and mental health, while also providing education on nutrition, and help women with their maternity care. That’s when I discovered the field of public health, and it led me to attend Grand Valley State University for my masters of public health.”

After completing her degree at GVSU, Miller stumbled upon a job that looked very interesting and it was back in her hometown of Ludington.

“Shortly after finishing graduate school, an opportunity came up to return to my hometown to start my career in public health and I went for it,” she said. “I was excited by the opportunity to start working in public health- at that time, working in nutrition with the women, infants, and children program and it was also appealing that I could do this work near my hometown community. It has been such a joy to live and work in this community that I know and love- and to feel like I am able to play a small part in giving back to the community through the work of public health.”

Miller said that not everyone knows a lot about what the health department does and who can access assistance from them or many people have very minimal interactions with the health department, leaving a lot of the services left behind that can really benefit a large variety of people.

“I see our health educators as being, not only direct educators of health information, but also community messengers and collaborators for health,” she said. “We bring education to our communities in ways that meet people where they are while also addressing the barriers and systems that are in place that get in the way of a person’s ability to live healthfully. Health departments have such broad and varied programs that are truly essential for protecting the health of the public, but also leading innovations for emerging issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Not only health educators are employed by the health department, District 10 covers 10 counties and employs a vast number of people in different role that pertain to health living to community partnerships.

“DHD 10 is a 10-county health department, and we have various divisions within our agency; Community Health, Environmental Health, Personal Health, etc.,” Miller said. “I work in the community health division, and in total we have nine public health educators who work across the jurisdiction in various health programs. We also have community health workers, and some temporary health educators helping with our programs and working directly with clients to address their challenges and barriers to accessing healthcare. 

“A lot of the work that I have done as a health educator has been through community collaboration. Which means that I’m working with members of other organizations, or with parents, with local officials and others- to impact the community. So, it’s been more of a systems-approach to health; changing those invisible barriers and policies that might be impacting health outcomes for our population. 

“There is a lot to public health and health education that, from the surface, we don’t always think about. People might need the information, the education about their health behaviors and how their choices impact their health. But there’s more to if- maybe they have barriers to getting the information, or they have other needs to address before they’re ready to make changes. In public health, we help break down some of those barriers while also providing education- reaching the whole person and their needs to help improve health.”

Since starting her job in 2016, Miller has worn many hats and really enjoys the different roles she has had an opportunity to play at the health department. In her newest role, she really gets excited about helping new health educators and teaching them all the tools she has picked up along the way at the District 10 Health Department.

“I’ve worked in various roles at DHD#10 over the past six years and just this summer have moved into a supervisory role with the agency. Public health is such a diverse and evolving field. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more ‘in the spotlight’ than ever before, so people have some degree of recognition for what we do. But the reality is, public health is weaved into every aspect of our community from ensuring that our food and water is safe for consumption, to helping people quit smoking, to helping individuals make better choices with their food choices, and so much more. 

“If you take a moment to look around your world and your community, it’s very likely that the field of public health has impacted that space in some way or another. I have the privilege of working with an awesome team of health educators- overseeing and supporting the work that they do in their communities to prevent substance misuse as well as chronic disease.

“I feel that my most crucial role currently, is being a supportive mentor for our newer health educators, so that they can do their job successfully but also feel inspired and passionate about the work that we do. I also see my dual role as both a member of this community and a representative of public health as being very important. Because, at the end of the day, the people that I collaborate with on projects and those that I am bringing education to are not just members of the community, they’re my neighbors, my previous teachers, my friends.”

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