Interview with Dr. Kayla Klein, Community Outreach Specialist, Branson, Missouri

Published June 10, 2020

Dr. Kayla Klein is the Community Outreach Specialist with a rural local public health department located in southwest Missouri. For the past 4 months, Kayla has transitioned into new roles as the health department responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Klein received her DNP in Advanced Public Health Nursing from Rush University College of the Nursing.

In your role as Community Outreach Specialist, what is your interface with the COVID-19 pandemic?

My role as Community Outreach Specialist has adapted and changed throughout the pandemic. Early on, I played more of a supportive role to our communicable disease nurse by sending out communications to key groups (health care providers, long-term care facilities, schools, faith-based organizations, etc.) and fielding communications from the public regarding COVID-19 in our county and the surrounding communities.

As our case counts began to increase, a restructuring of the communicable disease team at the health department occurred, and I now play a role in conducting COVID-19 case investigations, contact tracing, and assist with content development for press releases being issued to the public regarding new cases. Additionally, I play a supportive role to the health department’s leadership team in conducting research on promising practices and models to reopen communities.

More recently, I was given the opportunity to coordinate a small team within the health department that reviews reopening mitigation plans from various types of businesses across the county. This project includes not only reviews of business plans for reopening, but also provides an opportunity to educate and support business organizations on ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace and infection prevention strategies to protect both employees and guests. Additionally, TCHD’s COVID-19 task force team has worked hard in providing resources for the community during this reopening phase in the form of industry specific toolkits made available on our website.

What is your new reality as Community Outreach Specialist at TCHD?

Serving the community at a local public health department during the COVID-19 pandemic has been both an exciting and challenging experience. I never thought I would be conducting COVID-19 case investigations, become a resource to the community in providing COVID-19 disease transmission education and prevention, or providing guidance and recommendations to our businesses as our community begins to reopen. While I thought my days working 12-hour shifts in the hospital were over, working in public health during a pandemic has proven to me that I can and will be prepared to work long hours when necessary! Our health department strives to not only respond to the pandemic as it evolves, but to think ahead to what we need to plan and be ready for, whether it is a phased approach to reopening, or planning for another wave of cases, we are continually discussing what has gone well, and what we need to improve and focus on before the next challenge comes our way.

Of the many challenges you have faced during this crisis, is there one that is the biggest?

Over the course of the pandemic, I think our biggest challenges have evolved over time. Early on in the pandemic our biggest challenge was having access to testing in our community. With careful and consistent collaboration with several key partners, we were able to support opening a mobile testing unit for the county; however, this took some time and we continue to work with our partners in trying to minimize testing barriers for individuals in the community.  At the present, one of the biggest challenges we face is alignment of state level orders with local jurisdictions. At this time, local jurisdictions in our county have not added additional restrictions to the governor’s orders for reopening during this first phase. We continue to help the community understand these orders and what they mean when it comes to interacting in public and conducting business at the local level. Additionally, we also are continuing to provide guidance and recommendations based on the most recent information from organizations such as the CDC, WHO, and EPA to help businesses make informed decisions about their reopening plans.    

How did your DNP in Population Health Nursing prepare you for this role and your interface with the COVID-19 Pandemic?

As I reflect on the graduate education I received at Rush, there are several aspects  that prepared me for this role. One key aspect is the ability to support and collaborate with community partners to accomplish common goals. My DNP education helped me to understand and apply the skills needed to strengthen and build community partnerships. Successful public health practices are rooted in the ability to work alongside other entities to more effectively reach vulnerable populations and foster positive health outcomes. Our partners have helped us share health promotion messaging and COVID-19 communication to reach populations and community groups that we would not have reached otherwise.

Additionally, my DNP education helped to prepare me in developing and implementing effective risk communication throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This communication requires a keen understanding of the population, perceived risk and actual risk of COVID-19 disease transmission, as well as the internal and external factors that influence people to make decisions to protect their health and the health of their loved ones.

What are the leadership lessons you learned in your DNP program that have supported your success during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

One of the biggest leadership lessons I learned in the DNP program is the importance of building relationships with those with whom you work. To catalyze change in any organization, even change at a small level to improve processes, requires leaders to understand that those executing the processes likely have the most valuable input to make the change successful. Throughout the implementation of my DNP project, building relationships with key staff and working together to improve processes led to successful project implementation. The same has held true working alongside my co-workers during this pandemic. The professional relationships I have developed with my team have led to productive interactions and successful completion of various projects during the pandemic.

Another leadership lesson I learned in the DNP program is the value in being able to adapt to the evolving changes and needs within an organization. There is only so much careful planning that can take place before unexpected, unpredictable change comes our way – it is in these times I’ve learned that the ability to adapt to change will lay a foundation for success and lead to the development of stronger teams ready to face what comes next. 

What are some pearls of wisdom that you could share with your colleagues during these very turbulent times?

What I have learned throughout my DNP education, and even during this pandemic, is to never lose sight of your “why.” Always remember why you became a nurse, why you entered this profession. These are difficult times and while there will always be moments of fear, moments of fatigue, even moments of disappointment or despair, always reflect on what brought you to nursing and what continues to support you through this journey. Each person’s “why” may look a little different from someone else’s, but the spirit of nursing will always center on the compassion in caring for others, to bring health and wellness to people.

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