How this Former Public Health Coordinator Became the Chief of Staff at Ash Wellness
Jack Hildick-Smith joined Ash Wellness in 2021 as our Chief of Staff. We sat down with Jack to learn more about his career in public health.
What inspired you to go into public health?
I went to Cornell for biology. I originally planned to apply for medical school, but soon realized that I wanted to work with communities and systems, not individual patients. I wanted a career that would be helpful to a large number of people. Public health seemed like a perfect fit.
What work did you do for the CDC?
After college, I got a two year fellowship with the CDC, and was stationed in Dover, Delaware at the Bureau of Communicable Diseases. This was at the height of the opioid epidemic, and I was assigned hepatitis and HIV surveillance. The CDC had just released data showing that more people were dying of hepatitis C than all other reportable infectious diseases combined.
I helped create a surveillance protocol for the CDC to speedily process case reports in the State of Delaware. We compiled and categorized essential diagnostic information related to hepatitis C infections so the department wouldn’t get overrun with test results, and we could generate baseline data to target interventions.
And after your fellowship ended?
I got recruited by the City of Philadelphia as a Project Coordinator for the Department of Public Health. I’d worked with them and interviewed them in the process of designing my surveillance protocol for the Bureau of Communicable Diseases.
In Philadelphia, I was a public servant at the health department. I also worked as a government co-chair on our local advocacy collaboration: HepCAP. We were dedicated to improving the continuum of hepatitis C prevention, diagnosis, care, and support services with the goal of eliminating hepatitis C in Philadelphia.
Philly was also one of five jurisdictions that had enhanced surveillance funding at the time. I got a chance to see how money could really impact public health.
Did you do any front line work?
Yes! In 2018, our viral hepatitis program identified an acute risk for concurrent hepatitis virus infections in certain communities. We pooled resources across programs at the health department, and designed a research study to screen those populations for current infections and evidence of immunity.
We developed a plan to link those with an infection to treatment, and connect high-risk people to free vaccines. We then got to work in the community collecting and processing blood samples. We also interviewed people and educated them about risk factors. We screened 438 people in four months.
How did you end up at Ash Wellness?
After three years, I got frustrated with public funding streams. Everything in public health is dependent on whether congress allocates money. I wondered what the private sector could offer. I got a job in biotech to understand how that space works. How do interventions get off the ground? How do you get funding for a company?
During that time, I got an email from the Cornell alumni network announcing an alumni-led healthtech startup, what later became Ash Wellness. It was the first time I'd seen a private company address issues of sexual health and STI tracing. This was a purposeful intervention that solved a real problem.
I was hired as their Chief of Staff in May 2021.
How did your work in public health prepare you for your role at Ash Wellness?
My tenure in public health taught me how to lead coalitions that tangibly support underserved communities. When I joined Ash Wellness, I wanted to make sure we never lost that north star. I try to keep us asking the right questions. Does our work provide a valuable solution for marginalized people? Is it inclusive?
How could Ash Wellness bolster public health initiatives?
If done correctly, at-home testing could revolutionize public healthcare. Testing itself is great, but the real goal is linking people to care. Ash Wellness not only provides at-home testing as an alternative, but works with doctors and care providers from the start. We call this a warm handoff—when care providers take you from one step to the next.
You were in an ambulance corp?
I was! My older brother was the lieutenant of the ambulance corp in my hometown. I joined in 2010. I went on to become an EMT and that’s how I realized that I didn’t want to become a doctor. I don’t like to personally administer direct care.
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