Have you paused recently before answering the standard dinner party question, “What do you do for a living?” Prior to the pandemic, I had no hesitation in proudly saying without concern, “I work in public health.” But on a recent vacation, when asked this question multiple times a day, I tried variations that wouldn’t lead to dark conversations about vaccine deniers, the horrors of American politics, or predictions on the next disease coming our way.

(For the record, vaccines are the best life-saving public health tool ever, with seat belts perhaps coming in second. I rarely want to talk about politics, much less with strangers. And finally: I have no idea! Alas, my public health degree didn’t come with a crystal ball.)

By the end of the trip, I had reevaluated, dodging any invasive follow up questions. Instead, I told anyone who looked my way, “I work in public health!” And, I’d like to encourage you to do the same, with pride and joy for our field.

Yes, we are slowly emerging from a global pandemic where communication about public health strategies and advancements was unclear at best. And yes, unfortunately millions have died from COVID since 2019. However, imagine what our community and state would look like today if our public health work force hadn’t shown up and done their very best?

I had the chance to volunteer with the public health corps at Maricopa County Health during the first round of vaccines. I watched public health workers and retirees volunteer in droves to drive around the county, working long, thankless hours to get vaccines in the arms of the willing. They did so at risk to their own health and wellbeing. They did so when the call came, regardless of the time of day or weather. They did so because they remembered that working in this field is not about the individual, but about the greater community need.

We before me is the ultimate public health tenant. I watched these heroes in action, and it refilled my professional sails. What an honor to be part of this field, to work and walk alongside each of you.

In 2023, our association will be focused on three primary areas: increasing public health infrastructure, including workforce; health equity; and firearm safety. I hope to see you at our February conference and to share more details about each of these. And further, I hope you’ll find new ways to get involved with AzPHA this year. Join the book club, be a mentor, attend a Friday “conversations and coffee” to hear what colleagues in another corner of Arizona are working on.

Join us. Together, we can improve the public health in Arizona!