ASTHO Member Spotlight: Thomas Dobbs

February 21, 2019|3:15 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Thomas DobbsThomas Dobbs, MD, MPH, is state health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health. Formerly state epidemiologist and deputy state health officer, Dobbs is an infectious diseases physician by training, with experience in public health, private practice, hospital administration, and academics. In addition to his role at the health department, Dobbs is currently an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Population Health, where he teaches courses in epidemiology and health policy.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?
There is no other individual role that I know of where you can have such broad and immediate impacts on the health and well-bring of the populations we serve.

Was there someone who influenced you to lead a health department?
Dr. Mary Currier, Dr. Ed Thompson, and Dr. Alton Cobb-all of whom preceded me [as health officials in Mississippi]-are monumental and inspirational figures in public health.

What is your morning ritual?
Coffee, two eggs, two local papers, and The New York Times daily briefing. I also scan The Wall Street Journal in the evening since it's important to see multiple perspectives from journalists.

What do you do to stay healthy?
I exercise daily (even if just for 15 minutes) and eat real (not processed) food.

What are your favorite hobbies?
Cycling (preferably mountain biking) and seasonal outdoor activities of all varieties.

How is your state helping to build healthier, more resilient communities? Describe any steps you are taking in general or as part of the 2019 ASTHO President's Challenge.
So much of public health happens beyond the confines of the department of health. Some funders have not yet realized the value of public health agencies and, as a result, we are not fully integrated into the new world of population health priorities. We are strengthening partnerships, identifying gaps, and defining our role. We are striving to identify high impact activities that are measurable, achievable, and evidence-based to lift Mississippi from the bottom of the nation's health rankings.

How did your career in public health begin?
Beginning during my internal medicine residency, Dr. Michael Kimerling at the University of Alabama-Birmingham involved me in world related to tuberculosis (TB). This [experience] exposed me to the importance of public health and the limitations of traditional clinical care. I have been active in TB ever since.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?
The people. It takes a selfless and compassionate person to devote his or her life to public health.

What are your primary public health priorities?
Our priorities include finding high impact approaches to maximizing health opportunities and reducing health disparities in Mississippi. It's far too easy to devote resources to an endeavor that seems impactful, but is not proven or measurable. We need to think strategically and hold ourselves to a clear standard.

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