36 • Maternal and child health section manager •
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare — Division of Public Health • Boise
From her days in high school, Jacquie Watson knew she had an interest in reproductive health and sexual education. After working as a data analyst, overseeing a system that related to health before, during and after pregnancy, Watson’s passion developed into a career and propelled her to professional success as the maternal and child health section manager for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Watson’s professional performance, however, comes from more than just a passion for wellness. Watson believes that a chain of life comes from supporting the health of women, and that propels her to pioneer programs that promote it in her everyday life.
“Healthy women make healthy babies who grow into healthy adults who create and contribute to healthy and thriving communities. In this sense, women, mothers, and children are our greatest resource,” Watson says. “They also tend to be among the most vulnerable populations that experience higher rates of poverty and disparity. When we serve and offer opportunities to those who are vulnerable, underserved and marginalized, we are lifting up our collective chances for a better future.”
Serving underrepresented communities for Watson means going beyond her professional workspace. Although her expertise lies in her work as a public health professional, Watson’s non-profit and charitable contributions have shaped her reputation with fellow colleagues.
“Jacquie is not only passionate about leading and mentoring others, she is a dedicated public servant,” says Erin Bruce, clinical transformation manager for Blue Cross of Idaho. “She has spent her entire professional career serving Idaho communities. … Now, because of Jacquie’s pioneering efforts, evidence-based home visiting programs are available in each of the seven public health districts across Idaho.”
Public health crosses the borders of health care, moving into the home and the legislative session, and Watson is building the bridge. Beyond her success with home visiting programs that foster positive parent-child interaction and school readiness, Watson spent time in 2018 presenting a rule change to the Idaho Legislature.
The rule, which holds the weight of law in Idaho, requires all babies born in Idaho to be screened for congenital heart defects within a few days after being born. Because Watson and her team’s efforts were successful with both legislators and the Idaho Board of Health, babies in Idaho have the potential of early detection for a life-altering, if not threatening, condition.
With membership in five boards supporting women and children in Idaho and the 2015 Young Maternal and Child Health Professional Award from the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs under her belt, Watson’s professional impact seems unstoppable. According to Watson, though, the success wouldn’t be possible without empathy.
“I think when you’re able to practice empathy, to attempt to put yourself in other people’s shoes if they don’t look like you or don’t struggle with the same things you do, you can approach your work with a more human focus,” Watson says. “We look at a lot of numbers and data, (but empathy) puts a human face to the data. It impacts real people.”