Recently, Dave Chokshi (2005 Fellow) has been reconnecting with a lot of his friends and colleagues, including other Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows. That’s because many of them have been reaching out to congratulate him on some big news. President Obama appointed Dave to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health (the Prevention Advisory Group or PAG). His appointment went into effect on December 1, 2016.
The PAG sits within the US Department of Health & Human Services and advises the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is also a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. In fact, he and Dave first met when Vivek interviewed Dave for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships in 2005.
In addition to advising key public health leaders in the administration, the PAG brings diverse expertise from around the country to the department’s work. Having served in the Obama Administration as a White House Fellow in 2012, joining the PAG for Dave “was an opportunity to continue advancing the Administration’s important work in public health.”
As a White House Fellow, Dave served as the principal advisor to the secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki, who Dave described as a “genuine moral leader.” Serving in 2012, soon after the Affordable Care Act was passed, Dave focused on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on veterans.
His experience advising Secretary Shinseki had a major influence on Dave, and also taught him valuable leadership lessons. “A lesson I find myself coming back to over and over again, especially in my current job, is the importance of persistence—both in terms of the actual drive towards a mission you want to accomplish, but almost equally importantly, persistence with respect to communication.”
To teach Dave the importance of consistent messaging, Secretary Shinseki once made Dave sit with him through a dozen consecutive budget briefings in one day. Dave recalls the Secretary explaining, “Dave, I want you to see that I’m going to say essentially the same thing in every single meeting. You are going to be listless by the end of it—because you’ll hear the same thing over and over. But it’s important for you to realize that’s what it takes to spread a consistent vision and message across our massive system.”
Dave thinks back to that lesson all of the time in his current work. “So much of leadership is having the determination to hold true to your values and tenacity in conveying your vision,” he explained.
Currently, Dave is the chief population health officer of OneCity Health and senior assistant vice president at New York City Health + Hospitals, which is the largest public health care system in the United States. The system takes care of all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to pay. Their commitment to better serving marginalized populations like individuals who are experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, and incarcerated patients is what drives Dave.
“Our work is about understanding the lived experiences of our patients, often the poor and working-class of New York, and figuring out how we as a system can do better by them.” Dave also continues to practice primary care internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital, part of the NYC Health + Hospitals system.
In his current work in New York City, Dave is particularly proud of three initiatives:
1) Integrating behavioral health and physical health. One example of this work is implementing universal screening for depression in primary care and co-locating mental health services so that patients can more easily access the care that they need.
2) Improving care for high-need patients. Dave’s team uses data to proactively identify the patients at greatest risk for catastrophic health outcomes and then matches up evidence-based interventions to try to alter that trajectory.
3) Building programs to better meet the whole-person needs of uninsured patients, which often can mean partnering with community organizations providing social services such as housing, job training programs, and education.
While a great deal of uncertainty lies ahead as the new administration takes shapes, Dave feels privileged to have the opportunity to serve on the Prevention Advisory Group and carry forth his experience helping transform care at the largest public health care system in the country. ∎