P4NH Spotlight: Bill Ward Bill Ward sends a shout out to the Pacific Northwest and UW Medicine! It was an honor to interview him for this month’s Spotlight. His wisdom and motivation for service are truly inspiring. For almost 40 years in the Northwest Bill cherishes the memories of outdoor photography and working in a winery in the Columbia Valley region. He enjoys spending time at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with the peace and quiet without cell phones, televisions or cars.
As for UW Medicine, Bill is overjoyed by the cutting-edge surgery he received from there. He’s now cancer-free.
Having retired from his career as an electrical energy employee, Bill focuses much of his time and energy on sharing public health information with American Indian communities nationwide. His trips to tribal communities are usually self-funded, but tribes sometimes provide travel stipends. In this spotlight, we honor his passion for helping others by exploring some of the methods and values that help make him so successful in his mission. One goal of his community visits is to advocate for early cancer detection. He shares his personal journey as a cancer survivor and explains the importance of regular screening to prevent cancer from spreading. Cancer isn’t the only thing he brings up, however. He often discusses general health for men and women as well.
Whenever he visits a community, the first thing he does is find out what the community needs. As he says, knowing a community personally and building a strong relationship of trust and mutual respect are essential. In his mindset, outsiders don’t know what is best for any given community and guests should always keep that fact in mind. So he begins by simply talking to people on a personal level to find out what is unique about them. His approach has had great success in communities like the Nez Perce Tribe in Lapwai, Idaho, where he learned from community members that diabetes was their greatest health concern. To improve fitness and encourage weight loss (strategies that can reduce the prevalence of diabetes in a community) the tribe created an exercise DVD. After the DVD was created Bill helped mass-produce the DVD through the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to provide it at no charge to American Indians and other tribes.
Another way Bill gets to know communities and to help them know him, he stays as a guest with one of the members of the community rather than staying at a hotel just outside of town. During these homestays, he learns by sharing information with elders and others in the community, who help build his wisdom and come up with the best strategy to educate their neighbors. He networks with community leaders of all kinds and tries to get everybody involved in public health. Asking the women for their health concerns is a way to engage everyone and figure out what he should provide to the community. In response, women often say that their main health concern is to make sure the men are healthy and making healthy choices. Then they ask what it is they can do to help the men in their tribe. By this, one can see how asking simple questions can help promote community building and teamwork.
Bill has some friendly advice for people who seek to be community leaders: “Don’t have a big ego; the people around you are the greatest resources.” His methods and understandings of how to work with communities are good examples for anyone who would like to provide public health services in the future.
Thanks, Bill Ward, for your hard work and dedication!