Brad Gibbens
Deputy Director, North Dakota Center for Rural Health

How did you get to where you are now?
I had an attraction to the general idea of rural; it wasn’t my academic background. I grew up on a durum wheat farm in rural North Dakota. As a farm boy, rural was something I could relate to. I’m now in my 31st year at the Center for Rural Health. I started in 1985 out of grad school as a program assistant and then became a program coordinator. When the Center got their first rural health research center grant, I became a policy analyst. I was named Associate Director in 1991 and remained in that position until becoming Deputy Director in 2010.

What inspires/excites you most about working at the Center for Rural Health?
It’s the same thing in 2016 as it was in 1985 – an opportunity to try to make a difference. I want to be intellectually challenged, take what I learn and turn it around to help other people…help the people I grew up with. It makes a difference if you’re working in the state you grew up in because you truly understand the culture, norms, values, people and have a sense of the topography.

What is the most important thing you are working on right now?
I’m working with our Flex Program on a new round of Community Health Needs Assessments. I started 31 years ago by getting in a car in my first week and going to a small town to do interviews for recruitment and retention. What I enjoy more than anything is going to a rural community and doing something that directly benefits that town. I want to help them think through where they are now and where they want to go.

What is one characteristic that you believe every rural health leader should possess?
Flexibility. People who don’t understand rural health think of it as being simple, especially because of small areas and populations. They think it can’t be as complicated as urban issues. Rural has complex issues because of a small population spread out over a large area with unique access issues. SORHs have to know a little bit about a lot of things. Anybody interested in rural health should definitely spend part of their career as a generalist. Learn how to do a lot of different things. In the process you will figure out what stimulates you and what you’re good at. The more different things you can do, the more value you are to an organization.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a rural health leader?
I operate from assumption that I don’t know everything. I go directly to rural communities to learn, attend conferences and talk with colleagues. I like to ask people what they are doing and learning. I want them to share it with me to keep me fresh. Never allow yourself to quit learning!