#HealthITChicks Spotlight Interview: Karen DeSalvo, MD (@KBDeSalvo)

This month’s spotlight shines on Karen DeSalvo, MD (@KBDeSalvo), former National Coordinator, current public health advocate, and host of the #healthITchicks chat on Wednesday, September 20 at 1pm ET. She was also recently named to Cerner’s new Advisory Group, which will help to guide the company as it develops its VA EHR Modernization program.

After three years of commuting back and forth from New Orleans to Washington, DC, Karen now calls New Orleans home. “It has been great to be home,” she says, “though I love DC as a place to live.” It is a second coming home of sorts for her, given that both of her parents grew up there. She grew up in Austin, went to college in Boston, and moved to New Orleans in 1988 to attend Tulane Medical School.

She met her husband Jay, an emergency medicine physician, after meeting in the hallways of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, where they both did their residencies. They have been married for 22 years and consider their rescue dog Abita, a yellow-lab mix, to be the “world’s sweetest and cutest dog.”

When it comes to charitable causes, Karen and Jay gravitate toward environmental efforts. “My personal passions largely overlap with my professional work,” she adds. “I spend my time advocating for and supporting access to quality primary care for low income and other marginalized populations, and any public health topic.”

Given her busy travel schedule since leaving ONC, Karen’s favorite app at any given moment is usually tied to an airline. “Southwest is my favorite for functionality and customer friendliness,” she says.

She considers her taste in music to be eclectic, putting Ed Sheeran at the top of her list of favorites, followed by Hugh Laurie, James Taylor, Keith Urban and Etta James.

Spotlight Questions

What’s the biggest leap of faith you’ve taken during your career? How has that impacted where you are now?
I have taken a lot of leaps.  After Hurricane Katrina, I chose to step away from a traditional academic career path that I had been on and do a great deal of community organizing and policy work to rebuild the health sector. Then, I took the complete leap out of academics into public service as the health commissioner.  That would have been challenging enough, but I also was assigned the task to build a hospital for an angry, disenfranchised community. And co-lead the violence reduction work for the Mayor. And then I leaped to federal service – away from the community I knew and loved to embrace work for the nation.

When it comes to professional development, what has had the biggest impact on yours? 
I have had great mentors and role models who have helped shape me and my work along the way.  I have also had the experience of working in resource-poor environments, which I think has really helped my work and enhanced my ability to build coalitions to expand resources to achieve shared goals.

What advice can you offer younger women looking to break into healthcare technology, or those looking to join the C-suite?
Be true to yourself, your values and your true north.  Trying to fit in or be something you are not is a recipe for unhappiness. Knowing and adhering to your values will keep you feeling positive about your work and your contributions. Knowing and following your true north will keep you passionate about your work. Any organization worth working for or with wants that kind of talent.

What gender workplace topics have resonated with you over the last year?
I remain concerned about the wage gap and also the ability of women to know their value and feel comfortable asking for compensation to match that.

What are you looking forward to chatting about during the #healthITchicks tweet chat September 20?

  • What can we do to achieve the vision of consumer access to their longitudinal, digital health record?
  • What strategies are you prioritizing to ensure data security?  Are you looking at block chain as a future option?
  • How would you define data blocking if you were the Office of the National Coordinator or the Office of Inspector General?
  • What are our biggest challenges in assessing and addressing the social determinants of health in health care settings?
  • What can the health IT community do to help with disaster preparedness?

Join me and Karen DeSalvo, MD (@KBDeSalvo) for the #healthITchicks tweetchat on Wednesday, September 20 at 1pm ET. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn via the #healthITchicks group

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