January 19, 2016

An Interview with Health Policy Director Libby Thurman


Nashville is a music town. A lot of my friends are either musicians, married to musicians, or music industry 9 to 5-er's. Years ago, pre husbands and kids, a bunch of ladies would get together and play poker while their menz went out on tour. I couldn't and still can't play poker, but I'm not one to turn down social invitations or snacks for dinner, so I went. And I met Libby.

In the 10-ish years Libby and I have been friends, our professional paths have crossed enough for me to know that she is really good at her job. I mean, do you have a friend who's met the President? I didn't think so. Meet today's bitch, my friend, Libby Thurman!


What is your job title and where do you work?

Health Policy Director, Tennessee Primary Care Association. TPCA is a membership association for community health centers in Tennessee. CHCs provide primary care to medically under served areas and populations. I monitor federal and state legislation and advocate for policies that will benefit health centers and their patients. I also work with partners to find areas of overlap and further the mission of providing quality healthcare to all, despite income level or insurance status.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned about trade organizations through my exposure to the American Society for Public Administration. Attending local chapter meetings prompted me to look into trade and membership organizations for other groups.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I wasn’t 100% sure working for a membership organization was my career goal until I interviewed for my current position. Talking to the staff about the many ways they supported the work of health centers excited me. I also liked that there were so many moving parts - I was hired at the end of 2011, right when the Affordable Care Act implementation was getting underway. Helping health centers adapt and thrive in a different healthcare landscape seemed like a challenge.


What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

My path was not at all direct. I took a lot of detours and didn’t know where I was headed. My graduate degree is in sociology - I really enjoyed my coursework but did not have a clear career goal upon graduation. I worked as a behavior therapist in a traumatic brain injury program right out of school. The work was fulfilling, but the paycheck was not. I then took a position as a research analyst with the state housing authority. After a couple years there, I moved on to a position as a research analyst at a state-funded research organization. While I enjoyed aspects of my work, the topics I wrote papers about were not my passion (think land use, local tax issues, and funding for local jails). During this time I also completed an M.A. in counseling, thinking I would pursue that route, only to discover mid-way through my program that the licensure process was not designed for a single woman who needed to pay rent & eat for the two years it would take to become a reimbursable provider. I did a lot of soul searching, worked with a career/life counselor, and finally determined that I really wanted to work in the healthcare industry. 


Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Go with your gut, but think twice. It’s really easy to over think things, especially when the implications of your decision are significant. I’ve learned to trust my own judgement, but only when I’ve thoroughly considered the options. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

My inclination is to start small and then work up to what you really want. Through trial and error I’ve learned to shoot for what I want the first time. Ask and you may receive!

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Two non-work hours? Exercise! I have two small children and my gym time has evaporated into thin air.


What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Certainly one of the most exciting moments was meeting President Obama earlier this summer. He visited Nashville to talk about the Affordable Care Act and we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

I typically don’t look at any websites or apps until I arrive at work. First thing upon sitting down at my desk is email. If it’s a weekend day I will peruse the socials while sipping a coffee at the gym while my kids are in Y-Play (perhaps the best benefit ever - free daycare at the gym so you can work out and have a few moments of quiet!). 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Having a glass of wine and chatting with my husband.


What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

With all the publicity about healthcare reform it’s no secret that there’s a lot going on. The most challenging aspect of my job is keeping up with the constant stream of information coming at me and determining what is meaningful for health centers. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Legislative work is just one aspect of the job. I spend a lot of time working directly with members to problem-solve operational and other issues.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Hard to decide! I'm currently watching Master of None and waiting for Outlander to come back on. Snacks - potato chips and chocolate (not at the same time!).

All photos courtesy of Libby Thurman

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  NBA Marketing Director, Emma May!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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