Interview with Dr. John Blossom

Dr. John Blossom, a board certified family physician with many years of experience working in Community Health Centers (CHCs), is a Professor of Clinical Family and Community Medicine at UCSF Fresno and teaches regularly in CHCs in the Central Valley. Dr. Blossom is a member of several workforce collaboratives both in the state of California and nationally, including the HRSA Bureau of Health Professions and Bureau of Primary Care taskforce on workforce in CHCs. In addition to directing the California Area Health Education Center (AHEC), he founded the California Preparedness Education Network (Cal-PEN) and has directed the disaster preparedness training activities in under-served areas since 2003.

UCTV: What prompted you to incorporate disaster preparedness education into your professional life?

Dr. John Blossom: A visionary federal employee in the HHS, Terri Spear, created the content for a grant to provide disaster education to health professionals. I, of course, was more or less familiar with some of the risks we face and, like everyone else, still had vivid 9-11 memories, but was essentially uninvolved with disaster preparedness and education. I attended an orientation meeting and realized that the California Statewide AHEC Program, which I direct, would be a marvelous tool for design and implementation of an education program on disaster preparedness. I gathered our team and we came up with a plan to accomplish disaster education for the health professions workforce throughout the state. (I would add that early on it became clear that many health professionals had little education or information at their disposal.)

UCTV: How did this disaster preparedness series come about?

JB: The California AHEC is hosted by UCSF School of Medicine. Through our linkages to other UC campuses and the state we were able to gather a team of disaster preparedness content experts, headed by cal-PEN medical director Christian Sandrock at UC Davis. Together, he and I identified a roster of disaster experts drawn from around the state. Christian led the creation of an excellent curriculum and we assembled a core staff and five regional coordinators. We developed and conducted a series of faculty development sessions for our faculty and began to offer free training throughout the state.

This video series is really the best of the best.It is an all-star assembly of our faculty. These health professionals have responded to disasters - in and out of state - and have experience on the ground in disaster preparedness and response. Their stories are vivid and their advice is practical.

UCTV: Who should watch this series?

JB: Certainly anyone in the health field, professionals, allied health professionals, and students will find much of value in the series. I also recommend that the general public watch because much of what can be learned from the series is quite relevant to families throughout the state.

UCTV: What new information did you learn when putting together these programs?

JB: Because I was not very well informed at the onset, I can honestly say that I have learned a great deal. For months I was immersed in learning about natural disasters, manmade accidental disasters, influenza and its history, other nasty infectious diseases, and of course terrorism. I had the opportunity to meet leaders from the several state agencies that have responsibilities for disaster planning and response, and learned a great deal from them.

I was more familiar with the demands on the state's emergency responders. I did learn quite a bit about the roles that volunteers and volunteer health professionals can play in disaster response if prepared to do so! I think that we all learned more about the challenges of providing education to health professionals who are already busy. I learned how little extra capacity we have in our hospitals, medical offices, and clinics. As a result, I came to understand how critical preparation is.

Finally, I am greatly impressed by the responders, trainers, and administrators that do this demanding and stressful work on our behalf in California.

UCTV: Informing and involving the public is an important part of disaster preparedness. When should the public be notified in these situations and what can they do to help?

JB: The media and formal disaster notification systems make awareness of disasters pretty prompt. The key for the public is preparedness, preparation, and preparedness! For the public, just like health professionals, preparation moves a person or a family or a health professional along the road from victim to survivor and on to responder. Families that have talked about disasters and have a plan and some supplies are in a much better position to help themselves weather a disaster and help others. It may sound preachy, but there is a very real element of civic responsibility here. I think these shows have the potential to develop a higher degree of public disaster awareness and stimulate interest in the public to prepare themselves and their families; for some, they may wish to become part of the disaster preparedness and response effort in California.
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