Member Spotlight: 11 Questions with Heather Woods

Date posted: 
Monday, March 21, 2022 - 16:15
Blog poster: 
Heather Folker
Email of Blog Poster: 
Job Title: Environmental Health Specialist II
Place of Work: Southern Nevada Health District, Las Vegas Nevada
Education: Nevada State College
1. How did you get started in your environmental health career?
I was working for county road department as a crew leader in maintaining flood control cleanup and road maintenance after finishing my biology degree at Nevada State and applying to graduate schools when a friend told me about a job opening for an Environmental Health Specialist. I was not sure or I was not aware of the duties for an Environmental Health Specialist, but with further research I found out that this career involved my studies as well as my prior experience of owning a construction business that specializes in the installation of septic and underground systems. I applied and was granted an interview. The day of my interview I was at a required traffic safety conference I was dressed very casually. I had no time to change before my interview and had to run back to my conference for testing. I felt a bit out of place not having a nice dress or business attire others wore suits and dresses. Luckily the interview went well and now I am doing a job that is fun and rewarding for me.   
2. What do you love most about working in food safety?
The food industry is full opportunities, diversity, and an art form within itself. Educational opportunities are my favorite aspects of food safety. Even in intense moments when having to downgrade or even the dreaded closing of a facility and the frustrated oporator, I like to provide them with helpful information anything from in the moment corrections, pamphlets, to educational videos that can help them provide safe food handling. These facilities rely on Environmental Health Specialist to grade them accordingly and when a facility is having difficulties, providing them with educational opportunities helps them succeed, in turn regulators succeed in their business. Not only am I able to provide information, but I also get to learn from operators as well, especially with their creativity in the resort world of Las Vegas things are always evolving to bring in the clientele. Building a cohesive relationship with operators brings success for all involved then the community enjoys the fruits of our labor.  
3. Why is it important to participate in a professional association at both the local level and the national level?
Participating in a professional association has many benefits for professional development as everyone is unique and have different interests. At the local level it brings the opportunity for like-minded people exchanging different perspectives and ideas, identifying current events within the community. Mentoring by either being one or finding one is a great benefit, it allows the mentee to gain knowledge and skill basically while able to work in their field of interest. Local resources provide newsletters, job opportunities, and educational services which expands into national associations connect with local level. National level broadens the local benefits by reaching out to local communities of events, seminars, education, and services in networking to share inspiring interest then bring back to your local community. Communities nationally have different cultural aspects not related to you locally and may bring insight to improve upon returning home. I am a part of a couple of community programs that work with national, and it is interesting to grow and learn from them. In the past I was a leader and trainer for a local pony club and worked with the national club as well, I have seen students gain knowledge and skills learned through the program that led them into the professional career they are in now.  
4. What are the most crucial environmental health issues facing your community, and what can NEHA do to help?  
Water resources are limited in our desert community and providing safe drinking water has become an area of concern. Most of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead fed by Colorado River along with ground water wells. Since 2015 Las Vegas has found higher levels of nitrates in aquafers through local water authority testing. The areas of concern are four wells located between West Sahara Avenue and West Smoke Ranch Road along Rainbow Boulevard, which is the west side of Las Vegas. Awareness and testing are a continual problem for authorities and homeowners due to the lack of programs for testing domestic wells and septic system along with authorities having access to test them. As of today, Las Vegas is still having the same water problems with the lack of communication for public awareness and information for free or low-cost testing programs for domestic services.  NEHA might have insight to programs that provide various aids or educational trainings that have proven to help other communities around the nation affected by similar increased nitrate levels in their water supply systems. The Las Vegas community is continually growing as an attractive oasis in the desert, effective tools to provide safe drinking water will allow residents and visitors to enjoy the beauty what our desert has to offer.
5. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I have ever been given is by my father, he said “If you have to do something, do it right the first time.” My father was full of energy, disciplined and a hard worker. He wanted his children to succeed as all parents and wanted us to put forth the effort to take time, knowledge, and skill in our efforts to be more successful to enjoy the important things in life. Funny saying this after mentioning my interview attire, I must have done something right to luckily be here today.  
6. How do you destress?
I used to ride horses and train children to ride and jump horses, I have been riding since I was little and fell in love with it.  When I applied to graduate school did not have the time to invest into taking care of a horse, so I set that aside for a while. Now I have my dog and we go on daily walks in the desert to have our quiet time to relax. 
7. What is your favorite book or movie?
I am a bit old fashioned you can say my favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as Mary Hatch. I find this movie brings me joy every year reminding me that even though I may have not accomplished the goals or dreams that I wanted to in the past or during the year, but I have accomplished so much more. I am surrounded by family and friends who’s lives I have touched. Sacrifices and choices I make every day to help others even in the smallest way have an impact on their life. I look forward to watching Christmas Eve while preparing for Christmas Day. 
8. What are your favorite places to travel?
I think Hawaii is the top of my list currently. Many have said its overrated so when my brother moved there, I made the trip. Hawaii has so much to offer from desert to tropical all on one island and I found a new love for the ocean, enjoying the beach life and exploring the trails. I have only been to Oahu and now want to visit the other islands. 
I also love the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which is not a far drive from where I live. The views are spectacular and the amazing life it holds, it truly is one of the wonders of the world. If you ever get the chance to visit the Grand Canyon, North or South I promise you, you will not be disappointed at its greatness and beauty.  
9. What are your hobbies?
I have many hobbies which include hiking, camping, riding horses and training kids to jump horses. I love being outdoors. 
10. What is one item from your bucket list?
Go to the Kentucky Derby with a friend! I have lived and been to many states in the US and still have not had to opportunity to experience the Kentucky Derby. I want to dress up and wear my Derby hat for display!   
11. If you weren’t an environmental health professional, you’d be a ...
I have always loved medicine and helping people. When I graduated, I was applying to Physician Assistant Schools, I did make it to grad school yet left due to family illness and stayed at my current job. I am a grandmother now enjoying my family and my job allows me to enjoy them with a rewarding career, I still get to study diseases and help the public but from a different aspect. 

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect the policy, endorsement, or action of NEHA or the organization where the author is employed. NEHA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.  

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