September 22, 2017

Jimmy Parks, DrPH

Jimmy Parks, DrPH

Jimmy Parks, DrPH

Since graduating in 2014 with his Doctorate in Public Health Leadership, Jimmy Parks has become a self-employed public health practitioner in the Greater Little Rock area. He spent a year with the Arkansas GardenCorps and has worked in many of the areas’ urban gardens, specializing in bees, chickens, repurposing system waste, and generating local social capital.

Earning his income as a psychiatric nurse at UAMS, he uses art and language to satirize the health system. He is looking for opportunities to collaborate with students and academic employees on community-based, participatory, qualitative research projects and connect them to local, practice-based action research learning opportunities. Jimmy and his wife Sherri live in Little Rock with a ping pong table and their dog, Nada.

What degree program(s) and track/concentration (if applicable) did you complete? 

DrPH in Leadership UAMS

Associate Degree in Nursing UALR

Bachelors in Psychology and Sociology UALR

Masters in Health Education Administration UAF

What year you did you graduate?

2014

What attracted you to the field of public health?

I came to UAMS to study public health because my 20+ year career in health care, and particularly at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, led me to ask “Why do we organize around health the way we do?  What is going on at the top of our health system and public health education system in Arkansas?”  I found out.

What do you do now (job title and place of employment)?

I volunteer as a co-manager of a non-profit urban farm in Rose City called The Field and am an RN at the Psychiatric Research Institute at UAMS.  I am also a member of a non-profit neighborhood garden organization called the Team of Neighbors that Love and am a freelance public health practitioner.

How would you describe a typical day in your current position (concrete examples of tasks or duties)?

My workday agenda is different every day. I usually spend the mornings doing physical labor in a community garden. Midday I break for computer/academic stuff. In the afternoon, I may deliver a chicken coop, check bee hives, or take a tiller to somebody. One way or another, I work at redefining our local food system from the ground up—growing food, teaching, facilitating, and connecting.  I consider myself a community connector.  I also work at modifying the organizational behavior of our health-related institutions by commenting on their broadcasts, publications and “campaign messages” and by engaging their agents in conversations about health and people.

What experiences or learning gained at UAMS or elsewhere have you found most beneficial professionally or helped you qualify for what you do? 

Through the DrPH program, I was introduced to many of the two percent of people in Arkansas who make the decisions that shape our local health system. I was also introduced to a concept of community and an approach to community engagement that has enriched my personal life. Two of the best things about my time at COPH were watching the way people and health systems interact; and engaging traditional leaders in conversations about it. Specifically, the College allowed me in the room where UAMS administrators were struggling with patient-centeredness, where Arkansas Department of Health leaders were trying to reconcile expertise and health literacy, and where community connectors poke holes in the exclusiveness of the health system for the sake of their neighbor. The most exciting and enriching part of the program was talking to students and professors who were passionate about the same good things I care about even if we had different perspectives on them. It has broadened my experience and given me new useful language.

What is your advice for students considering a similar career path?

The College of Public Health at UAMS is as good as you make it. They have some great instructors, good classes, and some opportunities to learn in practice; but you won’t get the most out of it unless you are proactive—be picky about your advisers, make the most of the electives you get, and speak up when your expectations are not being met, and insist on having fun with it.

The biggest challenge for people who consider themselves public health or health care professionals is the temptation to be authoritative and paternalistic…to have the answers. The most seductive trap in academia is that science has answers about what to do. Scientists may have information that can help people think about what to do, but people have to make decisions without an authority…Dr. Bruce said that to everyone at COPH. People who cannot participate in decisions about their own health behavior (i.e. people who cannot influence the so-called social determinants) will always be sick. The biggest threat to people’s health is the notion that long-term solutions to public health problems will come from a system of health experts…i.e. from science.

Try to think of Public Health as a perspective on the world…not an objective, an outcome, a vision, a discipline, a special interest group, a mission, a campaign…nor a “job.” Working to “improve public health” usually means an expert tries to get you to do what you are supposed to do (or do the right thing)…whether you want to or not; so you either take the incentive or you take the punishment; it’s an authoritative, behavior-modification approach to health that has reached a point of diminishing returns.

I think a public health perspective can help solve all problems but isn’t the answer to any problem.  I suggest you bring a public health perspective to the table when you meet with other people to set any kind of goals; but that you don’t bring people to a table for the sake of meeting public health goals.

What do you find most rewarding about your work in public health?

There are no financial rewards. 🙂  The rewards are in the process anyway.

That means, it’s fun to use tools (chainsaws, hammers, ideas, and words) and to watch other people practice and learn how to use them to get done what they want to get done. The most fun thing about what I do is working outdoors or in a workshop with other people who are not trying to take over the world or save the world, but who are just helping the people around them or helping themselves.

It’s fun to work with “professionals”, “leaders”, and “champions” of causes, too …some times.  Seriously, I think it’s fun to work with anyone who is genuinely interested in learning to use the concept of health in Arkansas.