Lisa Kathleen Fitzpatrick is a board-certified infectious diseases physician and public health expert who trained at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She is a professorial lecturer for the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and serves as a site mentor for graduate students in public health. Dr. Fitzpatrick spent 10 years working for CDC in the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.
Her career has traversed domestic and global public health, research, community health advocacy, medicine, leadership and management. Because of her commitment to reducing health disparities, she founded the Community Wellness Collective (CWC) in Southeast Washington, DC (www.communitywellnesscollective.com).The CWC mission is to increase community health literacy and physical activity, including yoga and meditation, in underserved communities disproportionately impacted by preventable chronic diseases.
Her hobbies include photography, traveling, cycling, tennis and just about anything outdoors.
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It’s 9:46 pm. I’m sitting in silence reflecting on my day in the HKS mid-career summer program and realizing how extraordinary it was. Before arriving I had no doubt this journey would be life changing but until being here for the orientation it was difficult to concretely appreciate what a gift it is to be here. I suspect over the next year many benefits will be revealed but today I had two realizations about how incredible it is to be connected to this network of amazing people.
First, a great proportion of my learning will come from my classmates. Earlier today a classmate, Hany Beshr, convened an ad hoc interest group on the intersection of business and government. The group appealed to me largely because of my growing frustration with government bureaucracy, inertia and the absence of creativity in seeking solutions to our national and local health crises. The majority of my career has been in either government or academics. Consequently, I know very little about the private sector and public private partnerships. I crave understanding about how to shift our response to one that is more innovative, community-focused and results-driven.
As we introduced ourselves I was humbled and deeply impressed by the depth and diversity of our professional accomplishments, but more so by how much I will learn from my classmates who are seasoned in areas in which I have little or no experience. The group was professionally diverse with nearly a third from government, a third from business and several with extensive experience forging and facilitating public private partnerships. To my delight I also detected welcome themes throughout the conversations and introductions. We believe it is possible for government to become more nimble, innovative, efficient and collaborative. We believe the private sector possesses tremendous potential, influence and resources to assist government in responding to complex social challenges. I am very encouraged by these perspectives.
Second, the cultural diversity of our class will contribute immeasurably to my personal growth and cultural sensitivity. Direct exposure to such a variety of ethnicities and cultures is a gift rarely afforded anyone in a lifetime. Between the ad hoc group and another dinner I attended afterward, today alone I interacted with people from 20 different countries: India, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Ghana, Costa Rica, Kenya, Nigeria, New Zealand, Croatia, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Ecuador, Macedonia, Japan, Egypt, Columbia and China. When the phrase “cultural sensitivity” emerged many years ago, I immediately identified with it somehow thinking my years of global travel insulated me from the need to become more culturally-sensitive.
Although I consider myself open-minded and “exposed”, my experiences today challenged a few of my assumptions about people who are culturally different than me. These lessons are here for each of us if we approach this adventure at HKS openly and with a spirit of curiosity and inclusion. Today I listened….a lot and without judgment. I will keep listening. Listening leads to understanding and acceptance, the natural by-product of which can be unparalleled cultural sensitivity.
I never second guessed my decision to accept admission to HKS because I knew it would be a unique and invaluable experience. However, as I sit here pondering today’s events and revelations, I am convinced I made the right decision. Whatever strengths and gifts I bring from previous experiences, my capacity for growth and understanding about the world and our fellow human beings is limitless. I am looking forward to an incredible year ahead filled with openness, new friendships, learning and personal growth. It really is a wonderful gift to be here.