The commitments of public health, teaching and mentorship hold strong for faculty member Dr. Colbey Walker
The last two years have been a whirlwind for Dr. Colbey Walker and his family.
Last year brought Walker to a new faculty position with The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s School of Public Health, and last fall the family welcomed their first child, Murray, who has quickly become the true highlight of their world.
Walker achieved his next major milestone in May 2022, when he completed his DrPH in Health Care Management and Leadership from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
“I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “Everything has come together in the right way, at the right time, in the right place.”
Growing up in New Braunfels, Walker had plans for medical school, but after completing a bachelor’s degree in biology, he took a slightly different turn. A friend suggested he could gain valuable insight into the health care field that would only enhance his future medical aspirations by spending some time on the administrative side of the industry.
“I thought it would be a short detour before I applied to medical school,” Walker said. “When I got into it, I discovered that health care leadership was where I really wanted to be. In health care administration, there is so much potential to make an impact on not just the individual patient but entire populations.
After completing his MHA at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, Walker landed an administrative fellowship with Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, rotating through clinical units and departments that included finance and operations, among others.
His responsibilities grew over the following five years. He took on roles such as senior project administrator for the Johns Hopkins Department of Surgery, division administrator and assistant administrator of pediatric surgery.
“Baltimore and Hopkins quickly became home for me, both professionally and personally,” he said. “My mentors were so engaged in my growth and development. They provided new avenues for learning at each step along the way.”
While moving from such a supportive environment wasn’t easy, the Walkers eventually felt the pull back to Texas. Opportunity knocked when UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, announced plans for a new department of emergency medicine, separate from its previous position within the department of surgery. Walker became the department’s inaugural administrator in 2016.
“It was exciting, intense and a tremendous responsibility to bring a new department like this together, where some of county’s most critical patients are treated,” he said.
Parkland and Children’s Medical Center Dallas are both part of UTSW’s emergency coverage.
“When COVID-19 hit in 2020, emergency departments became ground zero for practically every type of health care,” he said. “Providers’ offices closed, clinics closed, while emergency departments kept the health care system running. It was a wild ride.
“In some ways, I was energized by the nonstop nature of the work, but all the chaos at the start of the pandemic really depleted me,” he said. “That time helped me gain some important perspective into what I really wanted to be doing and how.”
What Walker found to be most rewarding of all his responsibilities during that time was being able to teach and mentor administrative interns, residents and fellows, leading him to a career pivot from health care administration practitioner to full-time faculty with the SPH.
In helping to develop future public health leaders through HSC’s Master of Health Administration program, Walker said he hopes to “help get our world a little bit righted.”
Faculty teach various classes that build knowledge and skills, but the real goal, he said, is to bolster students’ drive and commitment to utilize those competencies toward improving the health of communities. He aims to deliver every lesson or new bit of information through the lens of: “Why you are here in the first place.”
“People can’t be healthy if they’re not fed, housed, secure or educated,” he said. “Everything is interconnected, and if we really want to make a positive difference on our health care system and in public health, we have to consider all these issues with each decision we make.”
Walker feels that HSC is perfectly positioned to mentor students in this direction.
“Our MHA program is the most affordable CAHME-accredited program in Texas,” he said. “It’s accessible online or on-campus. Our student body is rich in diversity. The university’s relationships within our community are strong. HSC provides such an opportunity for so many to get a really important education.
“I’m happy to be part of all that HSC is doing,” he continued. “I’m very excited for what the future holds.”