California’s top physician is stepping down, saying that she is now putting her priority on caring for herself and her family.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who was appointed California’s first-ever Surgeon General by Governor Gavin Newsom, announced her resignation Tuesday.
In a statement, Burke Harris said serving as the surgeon general during the “greatest public crisis in a century has been the experience of a lifetime.”
Newsom named her to the post in January 2019 as part of his administration’s efforts “to help the youngest Californians.”
The governor thanked Burke Harris for what he described in a statement as, “the impactful initiatives and frameworks she has put in place.”
Only a handful of states have a surgeon general. Burke Harris was not only California’s first surgeon general, but also the first Black person and the first woman to hold the role.
Born in Canada and raised in Palo Alto, Burke Harris received her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and attended medical school at UC Davis. She received her master’s of public health at Harvard and did her medical residency at Stanford.
After completing her residency at Stanford, Burke Harris founded the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco and led the Bay Area Research Consortium on Toxic Stress and Health in partnership with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.
An expert on the long-term health effects of trauma, Burke Harris was a strong advocate for children’s mental and physical health. Among other steps, she promoted screening for “adverse childhood experiences,” or signs of early trauma. She also played a key role in California’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially among Black and other marginalized communities.
“Our efforts ensured that California had the lowest cumulative mortality rate among patients with COVID-19 of any large state,” Burke Harris said. “While that is a notable accomplishment from a public health perspective, I am given pause by what that means for everyday families. I’m grateful to have helped California’s kids to have more time with their grandparents, spouses to have more time with their partners, and mothers to have more time with their babies.”
The office of the surgeon general will continue to support efforts to advance vaccine equity and invest in children and youth well-being, she added.
With Burke Harris’ departure, her office’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Devika Bhushan, will serve as acting surgeon general. The governor’s office did not say when a new formal appointment would be made. Burke Harris’ last day will be Feb. 11.