CA Dept. of Public Health

CA Dept. of Public Health

“I still use what I learned at SPH”: A Conversation with Ronald Chapman, Director, California Department of Public Health

With a population greater than that of all but 34 nations in the world, California poses its share of public health challenges. But they don’t seem to faze Ronald Chapman, M.D., M.P.H. ’85 (in Health Behavior and Health Education), who became director of the state’s Department of Public Health in June. Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, Chapman says he’s thrilled to be back in state government after spending the past several years working at the county level. Over the summer he spoke to Findings about life and work in the Golden State:

What’s the biggest challenge of your new job?

Prioritizing services and programs. At the beginning of the recession we talked about doing more with less, and then as it wore on we talked about doing less with less, and I’m now at point where I’m talking about doing the best we can with what we have. That’s the challenge. And of course California has a very, very diverse population.

You’ve just spent seven years working at the county level. How do you expect that experience to inform your work with the state?

As the director of a county health department, I found the partnership with medical care to be really critical to the success of public health, and that’s something I think has a lot of potential, especially as we move into health care reform. Medicine and public health tend to work in silos, but my experience has been when the two are able to partner they’re very successful. One easy example is emergency preparedness. When public health has a great partnership with hospitals, clinics, doctors, and their respective organizations, it speeds up response time and makes things run very smoothly. When you’ve got a relationship developed, with trust and respect, it’s easy to pick up the phone and call the hospital CEO and get things done.

You’re a California native. Why did you pick Michigan for your MPH?

It was mostly the winters I was attracted to—just kidding. I loved the Ann Arbor campus. But I also really appreciated the fact that to get the MPH you were required to do a four-month applied internship, so I did it at the Washtenaw County Health Department, and it was great. The health behavior health education program also was one of the top in the country. I still use a lot of what I learned. I took courses in community organizing with Barbara Israel and Scott Simonds, and when I have meetings with community organizations, I’m still using what I learned from those classes—how to communicate, how to listen, how to partner with very, very diverse communities. When we’re doing social marketing, when we’re doing community health education, when we’re developing patient-education materials and campaigns, I’m able to really give some good input into that process, which people don’t often expect from a physician.

How do you deal with stress?

I have a good sense of humor—that’s important. And I regularly engage in physical activity. I love cycling and skiing and surfing when I can, which is totally a California thing. I love yoga. That’s a great stress reliever.