Perspectives: Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH


For someone who doesn’t know you, how would you describe your role and contribution to health?

So, I’ve been very fortunate to have found public health as a career calling. It’s been my passion and my love since I began in it. And I have also been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have been able to contribute to the dialogue around how do we improve health not only in the United States, but around the world. What are those conditions that enable people to have the healthiest start and the healthiest life trajectory. I’ve been fortunate to have chaired a number of national committees and task forces. My own research work contributes to that growing knowledge base — understanding how we use education to create professionals who can work together at the level of the system to help communities find their own path to their own best health. And I’m just very, very lucky that I’m able to do those things in my career.




What challenges have you faced on the road to your present career?

I think to me, the challenge that all of us in leadership positions face is that people in general do not like to change. And if you’re in a leadership position, you’re leading for change, because if nothing needs to change we don’t need a leader. So, at once, it’s an incredible opportunity for possibility. At the same time it is a constant fight with your colleagues, with institutions, and with communities, and structures that in many ways are set up to not change and that’s good we want solid structures. But, the problem is when we’re dealing with health, new threats emerge every day. New challenges emerge every day. And we have to be ready and willing and able to change, to adapt, and ultimately to anticipate so that we can work to achieve our ultimate goal, which is improving health.


What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself when you were in college?

So, it’s almost cliché to say that this is the best time ever to be in the field of public health. But, I honestly think that is true right now. We have this amazing confluence of things happening. There is incredible change happening in health care. And as part of that there is recognition that population health is an important component of health care, but it also provides a bridge to what public health has been doing for well over 100 years. So, really bringing those two things together, to really think about what it takes to improve the health of a community at the same time try to help create access opportunities for high quality health care that’s affordable and that people can get when they need it, that’s all part of how we create health. So, for public health it’s an incredibly exciting time. The educational system in public health is undergoing dramatic transformation, changing curricula.  We’re changing the way we think about our training to really be future oriented, to anticipate the kind of things that have to happen around the world. The global opportunities are extraordinary. And there is just a great collegiality across all health professions that I haven’t really experienced in my career to date. I don’t think that there is a better time to be focused on public health, and when we say public health it’s everybody’s health — my health, your health, our health. If you want to make a difference and change the world, this is the field for you!


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Chief Operating Officer at USF Health, Vice Dean for Administrational at the Morsani College of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Strategic Development at the USF System

You have to take care of the team that provides the care so that they can provide the best care."
USF Health: To envision and implement the future of health.

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