Staff Spotlight: Dixie Duncan

Dixie Duncan grew up in the town of Van Buren, MO, population 800, a dot on the map adjacent to the scenic Current River in Southeast Missouri.  Now, she’s promoting public health coalitions in the rural region, where the PRC has been working to eliminate health disparities there and other rural regions..

“I’ve found the work very fulfilling,” said Duncan, who had worked at a regional food bank before joining the PRC in 2018. “I’ve enjoyed learning from Ross and all the other amazing people at the PRC.  It really grew my passion for health equity.”

She started her work for the PRC in Cape Girardeau where, as part of a grant-funded project to promote physical activity in rural Missouri, she helped form coalitions in seven rural communities and led local groups in gathering survey data from 1,200 participants. “Most of my job was to facilitate research activities, engaging with communities to help design the intervention,” she said.

She planned community events at walking trails in the region, providing health information and forming walking groups through text messages, programs, and other resources.

In 2020, COVID-19 struck, and community events had to be canceled.  She then began a marketing campaign for physical activity with tools including billboards and church bulletins, offering mini-grants from remaining funding to sustain the initiatives.

Now, she works fulltime at the Mississippi County Health Department, and leads an eleven-county rural health network that aims to reduce the burden of chronic health conditions in the region through evidence-based programs. She has also initiated multiple projects on equitable food access and food insecurity.  She started a produce-prescription program with health care organizations in the region, which has expanded to several counties in Southeast Missouri such as Scott, Mississippi, and Pemiscot counties to screen for food insecurity, and enrolled community members in a program to get free, fresh produce twice a month. She also serves on a community advisory board for the PRC, and is a member of the center’s core research team.

“My interest has always been working with communities,” she said, and working with the PRC gave her an outsider’s perspective on how the social determinants of health impacted the overall health of her community.  “I didn’t realize the magnitude of health disparities in the region,’’ she said. “Unfortunately, when you grow up there, it’s just normal. I continue to gain new knowledge and skills to help move the needle in public health in the region.”

Duncan counts oil painting and hanging out on the Current River as hobbies, and plans to stay in Southeast Missouri to continue her work.

“Wherever I can make the most impact, I’ll do that,” she said.