Danielle Harmon, MPH is the Executive Director for the US Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA). Danielle received her Master of Public Health in Community Health Practice in 2012. As a national association for lactation care providers, Danielle oversees the growth and development of USLCA’s programs and resources to ensure the organization is supporting the advancement of the lactation profession.
We asked Danielle, what is the most rewarding aspect of working in your field?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to support a profession that I truly believe in and being a champion for growth and change. As I continue to connect with those in the field of lactation and learn about the barriers they face, I can explore new opportunities to improve the lives of our members and the families that they work with through education, advocacy, and practice resources. It is incredibly rewarding to identify a need and then fulfill it, whether through big changes to the organizational direction or small changes like expanding the types of education we offer our members.
We asked Danielle, what is the most challenging aspect of working in your field?
As with anything, there are many challenging aspects of my role. At the top of the list is helping people outside the field understand the value of the lactation profession. I often joke that when I tell someone what I do I get one of two very different reactions: either their eyes to glaze over, or they show great enthusiasm because they have their own personal story related to lactation. Lactation care providers are a lifeline for those in need but without direct experience, many people may not even know they exist or what they can offer. Helping families, parents, providers, insurers, employers, etc. understand the importance of lactation – how a lactation care provider can help, and what type of provider to call – is a critical component of the advocacy we do as an organization. This work is imperative to ensure families are helped and providers are employed, but can be extremely challenging to balance against the needs and limitations of the association.
What advice do you have for early career/new professionals in your field?
My career path was not a straight line! I actually changed my undergrad major and career focus several times during my academic career. Ultimately, I found my passion for working in lactation through my graduate practicum where I was able to see first-hand what this work was all about and then turn around and apply it at a national level. My advice? Spend time with your boots on the ground. You may never know where your true passion lies until you are working in that area. Take the internship or job, shadow a mentor, get out of the classroom as early as you can.
What are you most proud of in your public health career?
The lactation profession is young. Young enough that we’re fortunate to still have many of the founders here to learn from. But the profession is also old enough that we’ve started to learn from experience, and more than just new scientific findings. In recent years we’ve learned a great deal about messaging around lactation and how cultural awareness and understanding can play a huge role in the experience of a lactating parent. One of the things that I am most proud of in my career is the work that we have done – and continue to do – to make the field more diverse and inclusive. Through education and advocacy, we are helping those who already work in lactation provide more culturally competent care to the families they work with while also paving new pathways for those wanting to enter the field, breaking down barriers that stand in the way for marginalized communities. There is a lot of work left to be done but change doesn’t happen over night and every step we take, we are closer to a more equitable profession and more equitable health for the families we work with. Navigating shifts in our organization’s mission, vision, and values, to incorporate this work, has been my most proud accomplishment.
Why did you choose UTHealth School of Public Health?
Prior to attending UTSPH, I developed a strong passion for nutrition, especially pregnancy, postpartum, and infant nutrition. This passion really connected me with an interest in public health. Part of what drew me specifically to the UTSPH program, in addition to its high regard, was the ability to focus my education on community health and maternal and child health. Although I wasn’t certain what my next steps would be after obtaining my MPH, I was confident that the education and experience I received during my time in Houston would establish a solid foundation for a wide variety of careers in public health.
What do you think influenced your career most?
My career has been most strongly influenced by my mentors. I feel incredibly fortunate to have built strong, long-lasting relationships with some incredible people. While I was attending UTSPH, I had a terrific internship where I developed my passion for lactation and ultimately began my work and research in the field. That was a transformative experience that set me on my path in some extremely positive ways. I have continued to receive opportunities to work alongside leaders and changemakers in lactation and am extremely fortunate to have been able to call these people my mentors.
Here are a few publications/articles where you can find information about Danielle and her work:
- Season 5 Episode 1: USLCA: A Look Inside the Organization, with Michelle Stulberger (President) and Danielle Harmon (Executive Director) of USLCA
- Two Important Lactation Care Questions Answered
- Who Is Providing Lactation Care? The USLCA Demographic Survey Preliminary Findings
- The Importance of Skilled Lactation Care