USF names Dr. Celeste Philip 2016 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health

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On April 6, in a crowded auditorium on the University of South Florida Tampa campus, Philip was named the 2016 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health.

“I was not surprised to learn that AFTER we made this selection, someone in Tallahassee had the foresight to name her the interim surgeon general and health officer for the state—can we pick ‘em or can we pick ‘em?,” said Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health, which has presented the annual recognition since 1988.

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Dr. Celeste Philip (left), winner of the 2016 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award, with Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health. (Photo courtesy of Eric Younghans)

At the time of her nomination, Philip served as the deputy secretary for health and the deputy state health officer for Children’s Medical Services, Florida Department of Health (DOH). In March, she was appointed as Florida’s acting surgeon general by Governor Rick Scott.

“As one of her nominees noted, ‘She has adeptly managed the delicate high wire balancing act required to maintain tranquility among competing armed camps—let alone move an ambitious public health agenda forward,’ ” Petersen said. “In addition, she is a staunch advocate for evidence-based public health practice, a strong voice for underserved populations and a champion for advancing a prevention agenda for all Floridians.”

Another nominator was Shannon Hughes, division director with the Florida DOH and president of the Florida Public Health Association. In her letter to the college Hughes shared, “Dr. Celeste Philip truly stands out—not just as a woman in public health—but among all public health professionals! She works tirelessly to coordinate, guide, advise, coach and mentor great numbers of public health professionals, both inside and outside of the Florida Department of Health.”

Dr. Celeste Philip (left) celebrates with Shannon Hughes, who nominated Philip for the Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award.

Dr. Celeste Philip (left) celebrates with Shannon Hughes, who nominated Philip for the Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health Award. (Photo courtesy of Eric Younghans)


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After the ceremony, Philip spoke with public health doctoral students Michael Bubu (middle) and Yuri Sebastiao (right). (Photo courtesy of Natalie Preston)

“A consistent theme that emerged in the letters that accompanied her nomination was that of “voice”, Petersen said. “In times of trouble, in times of anxiety and distress, it takes a particular kind of leader who will speak out and give voice to what others are perhaps unwilling or reluctant to say.”

After accepting her award Philip addressed the crowd with a slight quiver in her voice, “For someone known to have a voice, I feel overwhelmed now.”

She went on to share how she learned of this honor.

“The day I learned of this award was my first day on the job as interim surgeon general,” Philip said. Shannon [Hughes] called to say she had good news.”

Like most dutiful public servants, Philip immediately asked if she’d received some money. Hughes said, “No, but I think you’ll still be pleased.”

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A catalyst for health, Philip blends her medical and public health training to advance the public’s health across the state and around the world.

She graduated from Howard University magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish. She later earned a master of public health in maternal and child health and a doctor of medicine from Loma Linda University in California. Philip is board certified in family medicine, as well as preventive medicine and public health.

Philip officially launched her public health career in 2006. For two years, she served as an epidemic intelligence service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In this capacity, she oversaw maternal and child health anemia projects in the Philippines and Niger, as well as a nutrition surveillance system in the Dominican Republic.

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In her acceptance remarks, Philip reminded students “In public health, it’s all about partnerships and collaborations.” Her curriculum vitae is proof positive that this is something she lives every day in Florida. (Photo courtesy of Eric Younghans)

As medical director for the Department of Health in Polk County, Philip chaired the Polk Health Care Alliance Infrastructure Committee and served on the board of the Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, through which she provided primary care to uninsured patients.

She is a board member of the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia counties and a steering committee member of the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit 7 Disproportionate Minority Contact Initiative. Plus, she serves as a board member with the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation and the Health Initiatives Committee Advisory Group to the Florida Board of Governors.

Last year, Philip was voted president-elect of the American Heart Association’s six-state Greater Southeast Affiliate. Other accolades include the Outstanding Unit Citation from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for her role in the H1N1 flu response, the Prudential-Davis Productivity Award, the MacKenzie Foundation Award and the Selma Andrews Award in Public Health.

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Celeste M. Philip, MD, MPH, the 2016 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health. (Photo courtesy of Eric Younghans)

In her closing remarks Philip shared, “You think you know what your path is, but sometimes God has other plans. Just be true to yourself and your passion and good things will come your way.”

Story by Natalie D. Preston, USF College of Public Health

Related media:
Award ceremony photo gallery in Picasa
2016 National Public Health Week at USF COPH [VIDEO]

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