It takes a village

DC health department chief of staff advises DOs on public health

Jacqueline A. Watson, DO, wants more clinicians to understand the social determinants of health and how they can make an impact.


DOs are well-positioned to help bridge the chasm between clinical practice and public health, said Jacqueline A. Watson, DO, MBA, the chief of staff for the Washington, DC, department of health, Tuesday at the AOA’s Health Policy Forum.

“Our osteopathic training has prepared us to always remember that we’re treating the whole patient,” she said. “That’s extremely important. Whoever comes in front of us, we’re not just looking at their clinical presentation, but actually understanding their life circumstances and what makes them who they are.”

Dr. Watson spoke as part of a panel discussion on prevention and wellness that also included Jennifer Welch, an officer of prescription drug abuse with The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Theresa Chalhoub, JD, health policy counsel with the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Welch focused on the potential of Patient Review & Restriction programs to reduce opioid misuse, while Chalhoub discussed employer wellness programs and the unintended consequences they can have on women and elderly employees if deployed improperly. Teshina Wilson, DO, a member of the AOA’s Bureau of Federal Health Programs, moderated the discussion.

Physicians and public health

Physicians don’t always realize the impact they can make on patient health by getting more involved in their communities and educating leaders outside the health care field about the implications of their actions, Dr. Watson noted during the discussion.

The DC department of health is currently partnering with the city’s department of transportation to develop strategies for creating safer streets and protecting vulnerable populations, she said.

The health department is also examining new development projects and their potential impact on those who live nearby. For example, residents of one DC neighborhood asked the department to conduct an impact study that found the excavation process for construction of a new soccer stadium led to an increase in asthma issues and problems with rats in the area.

“These are things we don’t necessarily think about when we go into the office to practice medicine, but you have to consider all aspects of a patient’s life,” she said.

Making an impact

Dr. Watson stressed that as physician leaders, DOs can work to expand public health education at the undergraduate medical education level, as well as work with leaders in their communities to help them understand the population health impact of their work.

“Understand that this is going to take a village,” she said. “We have to talk to educators, economic development experts, and policymakers. We need to be in spaces we typically have not been in and lead a dialogue about how we can truly improve health.”

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