Feature 4


Some Things Never Change: The Persistent Need for Leadership Preparation in MCH  

By Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS
Director, Maternal and Child Health Leadership Skills Training Institute

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being affiliated with the MCHB-sponsored Maternal and Child Health Leadership Skills Training Institute since 1990 and through this stellar program have had the honor of contributing to the leadership development of over 2,000 dedicated MCH professionals. I’ve also provided leadership training to graduate students in MCH programs and have participated in numerous conversations about leadership development for our field. Through all this I have come to understand one universal truth:  we will never be done with leadership training and we can never relax our vigilance in assuring that every MCH professional has an opportunity to be schooled in the lessons of leadership, history, advocacy, communication, negotiation, championship, human rights and social justice. 

It has been profoundly humbling to me to meet people from all over the world who find themselves in the MCH field and who are compelled to enhance their ability to act on behalf of this most important of vulnerable populations — women, children and families — who depend on a variety of community and public institutions for their safety and security in order that they may fully develop into productive and healthy adults. This is no small task for these people who come to a field that is chronically under-resourced, under-powered, poorly understood and a victim of its own politicization. But happily, these people learn through the leadership training that we and others provide that MCH is grounded in a profoundly powerful history, led by prescient champions who believed that it was every child’s birthright to be healthy and whole and that it was our responsibility as a society to assure this right. They left us a legacy that we must now shape into our own; leadership training helps us connect to that powerful past and realize our responsibility to assert our own future. 

Leaders need skill and passion and both can be harnessed through training. In leadership training, we extol the virtues of leadership actions to everyone in an MCH organization regardless of position and we bring everyone under our collective leadership mantle, encouraging them to practice these leadership skills toward achieving local and universal goals. Many of our leadership training topics withstand the test of time, other content must be adapted to the changing environment. In either case, new leaders enter our field every day, just as new families enter our communities and hope that our leadership will be apparent to them. Our leadership training must be apparent to the new professionals that enter our field so that those new families’ hopes do not go unheeded. We pride ourselves on our ability to assess needs, set priorities and intervene toward resolution of public health challenges. This is one challenge that must always remain a priority, for the need is ever-present and the intervention at hand. However organized, however delivered, we owe it to ourselves, our forbearers and our constituents to assure that leadership training remains available. If not organized, if not delivered, we must still seek opportunities to mentor, to coach, to teach and to support our leaders. It is within each of us to lead and to leave a legacy of leadership.