Intended for healthcare professionals


The BMJ Interview: Rachel Levine on the greatest challenges in US health

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: (Published 13 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o8
  1. Mun-Keat Looi, international features editor
  1. The BMJ

Rachel Levine, the US assistant secretary for health and the first transgender person confirmed into post by the US Senate, tells Mun-Keat Looi what this responsibility means to her, and what it’s like working in this extraordinary time for American health

Rachel Levine’s appointment to the senior ranks of US healthcare was global news in 2021 when the paediatrician became the first transgender person in the country’s history to be confirmed into office by the US Senate and to be made a four star admiral in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

For Levine it was the culmination of a career that began at Harvard and was most recently based in Pennsylvania, the location of one of the country’s worst opioid crises. She issued a state-wide standing order for the overdose reversal drug naloxone, allowing police officers to carry the drug and citizens to purchase it without a prescription. “As a young person, I found my passion in serving through medicine and in medical school and in my training,” she tells The BMJ. “I have always found my career tremendously rewarding because, as a physician, all we try to do is help people.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It’s an extraordinary time to be in healthcare and politics. What are your thoughts on the US health situation at this time?

Covid-19 continues to be a challenge. We are doing everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated. Boosters are now approved for everyone over 16 for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, six months past their second shot. For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is the one that I received, it’s two months after the shot was given. The news about the omicron variant should make it clearer than ever how important vaccinations are in the US and globally.

In November you came to the UK for COP26. What were your thoughts?

The health effects of climate change are so clear. …

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