The Class of 2024 Examines Solutions to Complex Health Care Challenges During Learning Lab I

“Health care in North Carolina cannot be considered a system,” said Addison Hughes ‘24, co-chair of the Learning Lab I Committee. “In many circumstances, health care is broken into ‘silos’ and it can be difficult for different types of health care programs to run together smoothly.”

The Park Scholarships Class of 2024 examined how leaders in various sectors work together to address complex health care challenges facing communities across the state for their Learning Lab I, an annual experience designed and implemented by Park Scholars to provide insight into leadership through the lens of a challenge currently facing the people of North Carolina.

The Park Scholarships Class of 2024 met with state leaders including Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
Park Scholars meet with Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

“The emphasis on public health measures both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the true importance and impact of effective public health policy and action,” explained Sam Wallace ‘24, co-chair of the Learning Lab I Committee. “Complex public health challenges call upon leaders who are willing to step up, and they end up making huge sacrifices for their own communities.” 

Before the two-day program began, students heard from Dr. Jeb Fox ’14, a Park alumnus and a family medicine resident serving a rural population in Western North Carolina. “Dr. Fox set the tone perfectly for the weekend,” Wallace said. “His conversation about the importance of preventative care was very intriguing and I enjoyed how he laid everything out in a realistic and comprehensible way.”

The bulk of the program took place online from March 26 to 27 and featured physicians, state politicians, and local health directors. The breadth of speakers showed students the range of challenges faced by health care leaders. “We learned how much health care issues differ across the state, the importance of connecting with others in leadership roles, and the difference between serving as a leader on an individual level and a community level,” Hughes summarized. 

Park Scholars meet with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
Park Scholars meet with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

The committee had concerns about Zoom fatigue, but the class was engaged throughout the event. “My biggest worry was that the virtual environment would be draining and even boring, but I was so happy with the reaction from the class!” said Wallace.

The online environment had perks, including the ability to bring together geographically distant panelists. “We heard from speakers across the state including a panel of county health directors from different regions. If Learning Lab I had not been virtual, we would not have had the opportunity to hear discussions between leaders who live in different places,” Hughes explained. Wallace concurred, “We wouldn’t have been able to hear from as many diverse perspectives from as many areas of the state.”

“One of my favorite parts of the weekend was hearing from Mr. Sam Dotson, a warden at Lincolnton Correctional Facility,” Hughes shared. “Everything that he spoke to us about his leadership role in prisons and his character showed how sincerely he cared and how hard he worked to change the lives and trajectories of the inmates in his prison. I also was so interested and admired all of the school and work programs Mr. Dotson has brought into his prisons throughout his career to improve the lives of his inmates.”

The event was a success by all measures. “I was inspired by the amount of data-driven leadership, as it showed how each leader was willing to hold themselves accountable with their highs and lows by the numbers,” Wallace said. “This experience was impactful for our peers.”

“One of my biggest takeaways from Learning Lab I was that connection, empathy, and sincerity are vital as a leader, Hughes said. “When you stop caring or connecting with those you are leading, you have a problem.”

Learning Lab I Schedule & Speakers

PRE-TRIP Session: Wednesday, March 17

5:15 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. | Dr. Jeb Fox 14, Family Medicine Resident at the Mountain Area Health Education Center

DAy ONE: Friday, March 26

9:05 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. | Introduction and Welcome

9:05 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. | Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services

9:05 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. | Dr. Jonathan Kotch, President of Health Care for All NC

2:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. | Cultural Activity (part one)

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. | Dr. Sonya Patel-Nguyen 09, Medical Instructor in the Duke Department of Medicine, and Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Katie Borders 04, Physician and Site Based Medical Director, Shelby Women’s Care

4:45 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. | Josh Stein, North Carolina Attorney General

5:30 p.m. –  6:00 p.m. | Reflection Group 1

6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. | Social Events

DAy TWO: Saturday, March 27

9:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. | County Health Director Panel featuring Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County, Dr. Marilyn Pearson, Johnston County, and Quintana Stewart, Orange County

10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. | Dale Folwell, State Treasurer of NC

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. | Community and Alumni Lunch Social

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. | Dr. Drew Rothenberg ’12, Postdoctoral Clinical Associate at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Mailman Center for Child Development; Research Scientist at the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy

2:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. | Sam Dotson, Lincoln Correctional Center Warden

4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. | Cultural Activity (part two)

4:45 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. | Closing Remarks

5:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. | Reflection Group 2