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Health Education Leadership Blog Series: An Interview with Brandon Johnson, MHS, MCHES®

The following interview is part of a new leadership blog series that highlights individuals that have furthered their careers in the health education field and are also currently working in an advanced or leadership role. 


Who is Brandon Johnson, MHS, MCHES®

Name: Brandon Johnson, MHS, MCHES®

Job Title(s): Public Health Advisor & Government Projects Officer | Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services  Administration (SAMHSA) 

Years’ Experience:

Career Sector: Public Health/Mental Health 

Leadership Blog Series Interview with Brandon Johnson, MHS, MCHES®

1. NCHEC: What is your current job title and what sort of duties do you complete during your course of work?

Brandon: I am a Public Health Advisor for the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, also known as SAMHSA, which is housed inside of the United States Department of Human Services. The particular branch that I work in within SAMHSA is the Suicide Prevention Branch, and I am in charge of leading the efforts around suicide prevention with states, tribes, territories, and healthcare systems. Also, I am a Government Project Officer for SAMHSA and I oversee all of the grant fundings that go into states, tribes, and territories that deal with suicide prevention. 

Additionally, I lead the Garrett Lee Smith Youth State Tribal Suicide Prevention Program, which is a grant program that provides funding in order to implement suicide prevention activities for youth and young adults between the ages of 10-24. Furthermore, I also lead our Zero Suicide Grant Program, which also works to implement policies and suicide prevention activities into healthcare and behavioral health systems. Lastly, I oversee the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which is a national TA center that provides free materials to a variety of different sectors such as healthcare facilities, community-based and faith-based organizations. 

Outside of work, I run and host a YouTube channel called The Black Mental Wellness Lounge. On this channel, I discuss various topics that relate to African-Americans and their mental health. 

So all in all, I wear a ton of different hats! 

2. NCHEC: How do your current responsibilities relate to the revised Eight Areas of Responsibility?

Brandon: All of the areas of responsibility are important and weave into what I do. However, since I work with a variety of leaders and state coordinators, we collaborate, plan, and implement different suicide prevention programs to address the needs of specific populations. So being able to set up a successful strategic plan by evaluating data, communicating with key stakeholders, interpreting the different cultures involved, and understanding the issues will ultimately set up an effective suicide prevention program. 

Overall, I would say that all of the areas of responsibility come into play at some point. It’s also about finding the community buyin. 

3. NCHEC: What is the most challenging part of your current job? 

Brandon: I would say helping our grantees and our state suicide prevention coordinators navigate the swift changes that happen with suicide prevention. For example, the [suicide] rates are constantly changing and many of our coordinators don’t have enough resources, so trying to find different ways to still make an impact can be a challenge. Also, there still is quite a bit of stigma around suicide so being able to provide the proper resources and help our different suicide prevention coordinators and organizations in any way we can, can be a challenge as well. 

4. NCHEC: What is something you wish a leader or mentor had told you during your career journey? 

Brandon: I think one of the things that resonated with me through my career journey is to not lock yourself into one career path or place. You don’t want to focus on something so finite that success only looks like that specific path. For me, I didn’t ever envision myself going into suicide prevention or even public health as I was focusing on mental health-related research. However, one of my professors started to talk to me about public health and that really changed my trajectory. I ended up going into public health and after working in that field for a bit, I wanted to get more involved with youth violence prevention. I saw there was a position for the Director of Suicide Prevention and I applied. I was offered the job and that is when I kind of fell in love with the field of suicide prevention. 

Additionally, I would say to just be open to any opportunity as you never know where your path is going to lead. I wished that earlier in my career I was more open to different experiences so that is the advice that I would give to other people. 

5. NCHEC: How do you continue to group and develop as a leader? 

Brandon: For me, I would say it is all about networking and exposing myself to other people who have different career paths. Also, collaborating with others and learning from them is my biggest takeaway. Another would be to just continue to learn, especially around issues that focus on health equity. For me, I like to try and find ways to continue learning by connecting with my interests and also having fun while doing so. 

6. NCHEC: What do you feel are the most important attributes for leaders today, especially in the health education field? 

Brandon: Besides being able to work with other people and being a team player, health equity is critical. With that being said, it is essential to understand where there are inequities, but it is also important to understand why certain things are labeled as inequities. By understanding health equity, it can lead to a better outcome. I also think that it is important to be open to a new way of doing things. 

In terms of leadership, I would say patience! Be patient with yourself, the people you work with, with patients. As most people know, things don’t get solved in a day so it is important to give yourself some grace. It is okay to make a mistake but also being able to own up to it. 

7. NCHEC: How has receiving the MCHES® certification impacted your current job? How has this certification impacted your career as a whole? 

Brandon: In terms of my current position, I think having the MCHES® certification gives me a little extra validity with each of my experiences. It also lets individuals know that when they see MCHES® credentials, that I have the proper skills and knowledge to take on anything. Additionally, having these credentials after my name has opened up conversations with others for networking opportunities. 

8. NCHEC: Do you have any advice to share with any individual who is thinking about obtaining the advanced level MCHES® certification? 

Brandon: Do it! There is always going to be a place and a need for health education, which is why I got certified. Healthcare is constantly changing and we cannot always predict what is going to happen. With that being said, we need to focus on getting the right information out to people for them to make educated choices and we need health education professionals to do that right? 

Additionally, being able to stand out as a leader, especially right now during a global pandemic, is very important. It’s great to have the MCHES® credentials and you should be able to say, “without a doubt, I know how to do this work. I know how to build these things. I know how to create solutions with others.” I also think that it is an important thing to have so if you are thinking about doing it, I would say take the leap and go for it! It will definitely change your career for the better. 

Looking to Advance Your Health Education Career? 

The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing Inc., or NCHEC, is known for promoting, improving, and protecting the health of people through upholding the highest quality standards in health education certifications. This organization promotes professional development and helps individuals strengthen their skills in professional preparation and practice. Additionally, NCHEC offers two certification programs, the CHES® (Certified Health Education Specialist) & MCHES® (Master Certified Health Education Specialist).

Interested in learning more about how to advance your health education career? Contact us today! 

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