For my Health Policy Career Chat, I was matched with Kate Taft, who is currently the Associate Director of Child & Adolescent Health at the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP). This organization is a network of public health leaders, with membership from every US state and jurisdiction health department. AMCHP’s mission is to both lead and support programs “to protect and promote the optimal health of women, children, youth, families, and communities.” In her position, Ms. Taft juggles several different child and adolescent health-related projects, including conducting site visits, facilitating collaboration between states, delivering trainings to state-level health officials, and reviewing the work of her colleagues.
Previously, Ms. Taft held two other positions at AMCHP: Program Manager for Child Health and Senior Program Manager. As Senior Program Manager, she enjoyed her ability to specialize, focusing on obtaining funding for children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her current position has a broader focus, and while she misses some of the nitty-gritty of specialization, she enjoys making improvements in child and adolescent health on a wider scale.
Something that I found interesting about Ms. Taft’s career path is that she switched tracks after completing her undergraduate degree. Ms. Taft graduated from William & Mary in 2003 with a degree in Psychology, and she thought she wanted to be a therapist. She enrolled in a graduate program with this goal in mind, but she found herself frustrated by policies that she thought negatively affected direct patient care. Rather than continuing to pursue a degree that would leave her constrained by these policies, Ms. Taft worked for several years before deciding to pursue a Masters in Public Health (MPH) degree with a concentration in maternal and child health at the George Washington University. She felt that her MPH degree prepared her to study and reform policies that helped to make life easier for patients and providers. In fact, she interned with AMCHP while obtaining her masters, and she has been employed there ever since.
The best advice that I received from Ms. Taft was not to lose sight of the bigger picture. When she discovered in undergrad that she was interested in child health, it seemed like becoming a provider was the most straightforward way to work in this area. However, she found that direct patient care was causing her to burn out, and that she was more suited to an “upstream” approach to health. Once she shifted her focus to public health, she found her work much more sustainable and fulfilling. She also credits her years spent working with helping her to make this discovery, a recommendation which I found very useful. Lastly, she noted the importance of budgeting. Budgets are involved in just about every policy and project, and Ms. Taft recommends getting practice budgeting through student organizations during undergrad.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ms. Taft, and I think her career path will be a helpful example for many William & Mary students.