Member Spotlight: Rachel Levine

May 03, 2018|11:21 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Rachel Levine, MDRachel Levine, MD, is secretary of health and physician general of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In these roles, Levine serves as the chief executive officer of the department and works to set the overall policy and direction, establish strategic goals and objectives, and participate in the decision-making process on policies relating to medical and public health issues. Levine has led significant efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and helped establish opioid prescribing guidelines and opioid prescribing education for medical students in the state of Pennsylvania.

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

After Gov. Tom Wolf was elected in 2014, he nominated me to his Transition Committee. In January 2015, Gov. Wolf nominated me to the role of physician general. This past July, the previous secretary of health left her post and I was asked by Gov. Wolf to serve as the acting secretary of health.

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

Gov. Wolf influenced me to serve as secretary of health.

What is your morning ritual?

Each morning, I do what many people do: wake up, eat breakfast, take my dog for a walk, and then drive to work.

What do you do to stay healthy?

To stay healthy, I eat healthy, walk, and get regular check-ups with my physician.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

Sarasota, Florida.

What are your favorite hobbies?

My favorite hobbies include spending time with my dog, Bailey, a soft-coated wheaten terrier; walking, watching movies, and eating at restaurants.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic?

Gov. Wolf’s administration has many departments that are involved in responding to the opioid epidemic. At the Pennsylvania Department of Health, we are working on many facets of the response, including prevention, rescue, and treatment. We are working to make naloxone accessible to the public, first responders, and schools through a standing order. We are also expanding medication assisted treatment (MAT) through our Pennsylvania Coordinated MAT Initiative, which is a hub and spokes model to expand access to MAT. The department’s prescription drug monitoring program and work with medical schools and providers also aims to improve prescribing practices of physicians. In addition, Gov. Wolf recently declared the opioid epidemic a statewide disaster emergency in Pennsylvania. This declaration brings together multiple agencies with the aim to increase coordination and expand the commonwealth’s abilities to address the epidemic.

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

What I love most is helping people. In my previous work as a practicing physician, I helped patients; as a professor, I help my students learn; and as a researcher, I made discoveries that could help patients.

What are your primary public health priorities? 

My primary public health priorities include: childhood obesity, Lyme disease, emerging public health threats, environmental health, heroin and opioid epidemic response, medical marijuana, nursing homes, and rural health.

What is your vision for the future of public health? 

My vision for the future of public health is reflected in our department’s Public Health 3.0 Initiative. This initiative was first developed by Karen DeSalvo, former HHS assistant secretary. It aims to address the social determinants of health. To truly address the health needs of our community, we must expand public health to include all aspects of life that promote health and well-being, including economic development, education, transportation, food, environment, housing, and safe neighborhoods.

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

I am grateful that in this role, I can help address the opioid epidemic. I am also very proud of Pennsylvania’s work to bring medical marijuana to patients in the commonwealth.

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

The most important lesson I have learned is to maintain balance. In this job, you need to balance many urgent issues while keeping an eye on larger strategies and priorities.