Looking back to look ahead: my lucky 7 for 2021
Vivian Singletary

Whew—we made it to the end of another year! And no year ends without successes to celebrate and lessons to learn. Reflecting back, one thing we’re taking away from 2021 for sure is public health is unpredictable. Although it’s unpredictable, we have still made strides to resume our work and personal life with a “new normal”.  I took time to think about our progress over the past year and how those strides have shaped public health practice and us as individuals. As I reflected, I jotted down my lucky seven lessons from 2021.

  1. Be able to pivot at the drop of a dime. It’s really important to continue learning and expanding on flexibility and agility. From in-person to virtual to hybrid transitions, our day-to-day will not look the same as it did pre-COVID. Being a learning organization was the only way to remain steadfast and prepared as our routines continued to evolve around us.
  2. Look for small wins and celebrate them. There’s no argument that the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled some gaps in public health preparedness and response. But it also shone a light on the massive underinvestment in public health, and it raised a relevance of public health to the public at large. Now we’re seeing a desire to learn how the system works and investing funding, time and resources to support public health infrastructure. In fact, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is investing $73 million to strengthen both the existing and new public health workforce, and CDC is investing in data modernization to improve the public health information infrastructure.
  3. Public health progress takes time. Yes, we have vaccines in place now, but that doesn’t mean research is done. We’re moving from COVID as a pandemic disease to an endemic disease, so this is a virus we have to learn how to live with for some time to come. Scientists need more time to develop new vaccines and therapeutics and to conduct research to help them better understand the virus. Patience and flexibility will help us build tools in our arsenal to combat COVID and other viruses in the long run.
  4. Data are at the heart of the public health infrastructure. Disease will always be here—COVID is just one of the many health threats our generation will face. This is why at PHII we stress the importance of a strong surveillance system with timely and relevant data so that we can quickly detect the spread of disease and intervene early to improve health outcomes.
  5. There is life beyond COVID. The only way to move forward is to remain optimistic. I’m optimistic in the human spirit to live and will to survive and overcome health threats. There are many bright researchers who are driven by that same will, and that’s what keeps me hopeful. It’s that will that gives us a desire and an opportunity to be innovative in our approaches.
  6. Every cloud has a silver lining. COVID has been heavy across the globe, but it allowed me to truly slow down and appreciate the little things in life. My priorities are much clearer and more aligned, and those are the things I aim to frame my day-to-day around, professionally and personally.
  7. PHII remains committed to the work. To make large-scale change, it’s imperative to begin with building capacity within local and state health departments and ministries of health. Starting there will allow us to rest more safely in our communities around the world. From our contact tracing work with Apple and Google to our hand in helping to create roadmaps for data modernization initiatives, PHII has stepped in to support the practice in more ways than one.


There you have it: my lucky seven lessons that help me leave 2021 inspired and ready to face what 2022 has in store head-on. I hope you, too, are leaving feeling inspired and hopeful for where public health is leading us. Until then, celebrate your wins, practice flexibility and never take the little things for granted. 

The only way to move forward is to remain optimistic. I’m optimistic in the human spirit to live and will to survive and overcome health threats.