September 08, 2021
When did you join UTHealth? What brought you here?
I joined the UTHealth Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program in 1990 to serve as a nutritionist for a week for someone who was going on vacation. Since I already had over 10 years of experience working in the WIC Program at other local agencies, I didn’t need training. However, when that nutritionist returned, she submitted her resignation, and I stayed on as a casual employee and then as a part-time nutritionist. After about two years, fate intervened. I was in the right place at the right time when Karen Gibson became the director at UT WIC, and she needed an assistant director. As they say, the rest is history.
Tell me about your work history here.
My previous WIC experience included working as a nutritionist and as an administrator. Thus, when I began my career with UTHealth, I was familiar with most of the aspects of program operations and was able to jump right in and work in any capacity where I was needed. We were in a period of growth, so there were times when I was needed to counsel patients, or teach a nutrition class. At other times, I was needed to create a procedure for a new policy, or interview applicants for an open position.
As the program grew, my role as assistant director became more defined, and I concentrated my efforts on personnel responsibilities, quality assurance, and day-to-day clinical operations. Staffing is always changing, and policies and procedures for WIC are in constant change as well. In the past three years alone, we converted to paperless WIC records and started pre-screening applicants through a portal in order to qualify them for the program over the phone. As with any new computer/software system, we encountered numerous difficulties and glitches and have had to adjust and go with the flow. As for day-to-day clinical operations, it seems that at least one clinic daily is short on staff or has a broken piece of equipment that needs to be replaced. Every day brings a new challenge!
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Every two years, the WIC State Agency auditors conduct a review of our records, and they observe our staff as they qualify applicants for the program. I am happy to say that we have always come through with flying colors! With the frequent changes in WIC policies and procedures and the staff turnovers, keeping everyone up to date and trained has sometimes been difficult. However, with regular self-audits and discussions with clinic managers with subsequent training, we have been able to conduct business in an efficient manner while maintaining accuracy. That’s not easy to do when your caseload is 27,000 participants/month!
Of course, we couldn’t have good reviews without good staff. Of our current 55 staff members, 40 percent have been with us for 10 or more years! Over the years, we have learned that people either love working at WIC, or they hate it! WIC can be a busy, crowded, noisy place with lots of kids running around, so a good fit for WIC is someone who has a lot of patience and compassion. At the same time, some WIC participants can be very demanding, so that person also needs resilience and flexibility to interact with the various personalities that we encounter. And all this is done with a smile! Yes, finding and keeping good staff goes along with the accomplishment of having good reviews.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I am the type of person who dislikes change. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, and I go to the same restaurants. However, to my surprise, I enjoy working at my job because it’s constantly changing! Not only is nutrition constantly changing, but every day at WIC is different. Whether it’s a new policy or procedure because everything is computerized, a new location for a clinic because a hurricane blew the roof off the old clinic, or a new sonar stadiometer to measure height in a contactless way during a pandemic – each day seems to bring new challenges and with it, knowledge. What a great way to keep your mind sharp!
Why have you stayed?
In addition to staying at UT because I dislike change, the overwhelming reason I have stayed is because of the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to work with. Without a doubt, I couldn’t have asked for a better WIC Program director than Karen Gibson. She gives me the freedom to do my job, but she is readily available to give me support and guidance. In addition, the WIC staff has been tremendous. They love their work and the people they serve and help to make my job interesting. Because of my various job responsibilities, I have been given the opportunity to work with so many remarkable people in other parts of UT: Pediatrics Administration, MSIT, Human Resources, Employee Relations. I would have never been able to navigate through all the situations I encountered had I not met these incredibly patient and knowledgeable people. I will always be grateful for their kindness and expertise.
When you are not at work, how do you spend your time?
When I’m away from the office, I like to read a good book. I have always enjoyed mysteries, especially murder mysteries. My favorite part of the day is curling up with a good book before bedtime and trying to figure out who did it.
In addition, before the pandemic, I enjoyed traveling to New York City at least once a year. I called it my “Sibs weekend” when I traveled with my brother and sister to take in the sites and see some Broadway shows. It was something I looked forward to every year, and we hope to resume once Broadway opens up again.