Public Health Heroes


South Dakota

Lon Kightlinger, MSPH, PhD
State Epidemiologist
South Dakota Department of Health

Lon Kightlinger, MSPH, PhD, South Dakota state epidemiologist, is a true public health hero. He is often described as the conscience of the department, that voice continually reminding us to follow the data wherever it leads and be committed to addressing the issues it identifies. His analysis and advocacy raised the alarm about South Dakota’s infant mortality rate, particularly among its American Indians, which is the highest of any state in the nation. His efforts were instrumental in Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s decision to create the Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality that is now working on strategies to reduce that rate.

In a small agency like South Dakota’s health department, officials frequently fulfill several roles. Kightlinger serves as the calm, authoritative voice and face of public health in regular media interviews on routine subjects such as yearly influenza vaccinations as well as hot topics such as the fungal meningitis outbreak. He sees every media inquiry as an opportunity to educate about public health issues and has earned the respect of both the media and the public. In another unofficial role, Kightlinger is a department leader in recruiting, mentoring, and supporting students and interns who are considering public health careers. He takes an avid interest in encouraging the next generation of public health professionals and has steered several promising students to further their education in various public health fields.


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