Member Spotlight: Randall Williams

July 12, 2017|3:12 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Randall Williams In February 2017, Randall Williams, MD, was appointed director of The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services by Gov. Eric Greitens. He previously served as deputy secretary for health and state health director of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Williams brings considerable public health, Medicaid, social services, and mental health services expertise acquired over three decades of public health and clinical experience.

How did your career in public health begin?

My career in public health began in North Carolina, where I was on the Wake County Board of Health as physician representative. I then joined the North Carolina Health Commission from 2004-2012 as the physician representative, selected by the North Carolina Medical Society.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?

For 13 years I worked with state department-sponsored endeavors to help Iraqi physicians. Six years ago, I was flying home from Iraq and reading a book in which the author stated, “courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin; you have to have both to change peoples’ lives for the better.” I called my wife from JFK and told her I was thinking about leaving my private practice of 3,000 patients to go into public policy because I read a book, and she told me to quit reading biographies.

Subsequently, I worked in the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory as deputy secretary for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and later as the 15th state health director, helping to lead a 17,000-person agency with a $20 billion budget.

Earlier this year, I was approached by a good friend who asked if I would consider doing this job in another state. I immediately said no, as I was interested in working at the federal level at the time. When I asked him why, I learned that the governor of Missouri, Gov. Eric Greitens, was interested in my work. Gov. Greitens wrote The Heart and the Fist, the book I read six years earlier on my way home from Iraq. That book changed the trajectory of my life and led to what I love doing today, here in Missouri.

Was there someone who influenced you to lead a health department?

I was influenced to lead a health department by Leah Devlin, a wonderful colleague, mentor, and friend.

What is your morning ritual?

Every morning, I wake up at 3:45 a.m., run four miles, and do my Bible study. I then check for news from the night before, start working, and touch base with friends overseas.

What do you do to stay healthy?

To stay healthy, I typically run 50 miles a week and participate in marathons regularly.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

My favorite vacation spot is Whale Creek Marina in New Jersey.

What are your favorite hobbies?

My favorite hobby is running.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?

I love working with colleagues to save lives and change lives for the better.

What are your primary public health priorities?

My primary public health priorities include:

  • Transforming Medicaid from volume to value and emphasizing prevention instead of procedures.
  • Increasing provider access in rural and underserved communities.
  • Combating the opioid misuse crisis.
  • Meeting the behavioral health needs of veterans.
  • Improving women and children’s health statewide.

How has public health changed during your time in the field? 

Public health has changed in that the immediacy of the news cycle now requires constant communication. This can also diminish understanding of the importance of public health, thereby leading to decreased funding.

What is your vision for the future of public health?  

In the last century, the average life span of Americans has increased by about 30 years. The two words that explain this are public health. In this century, I believe the quality of life of those 30 extra years will also be largely dependent on public health.

What are three things public health leaders can do to educate and engage the communities they serve?

Three things public health leaders can do to educate and engage the communities they serve are:

  • Make yourself available.  While at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, I visited all 100 counties in North Carolina. I have also visited all 115 counties in Missouri in the last five months, listened to peoples’ concerns, and given them my personal cell phone number.
  • Convene partners to champion initiatives.
  • Be responsive to members of the legislature and other statewide groups.

What is something you’re most thankful to have been a part of during your career in public health? 

Gov. Pat McCrory, the former governor of North Carolina, signed legislation in June 2016 making North Carolina the third state to have Narcan universally available to the people of North Carolina under my DEA number. This legislation was passed with eight unanimous votes in the North Carolina legislature. I am thankful to have been a part of the process.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned during your career in public health?  

During my career in public health, I have learned that it is a great privilege to serve, and that this service requires compassion and courage.

How has social media helped advance public health within your state?

In Missouri, we use social media extensively to educate, raise awareness, and emphasize prevention.