Farewell: My Fascinating Journey as OWH Director

Five and a half years ago, I left Atlanta to come to Washington to serve as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health — Women's Health and Director of the HHS Office on Women's Health (OWH). It's been an incredibly rewarding adventure, but it's time for me to pass the torch and say farewell. Before I go, I'd like to share with you some of what I've learned and my hopes for continued progress in improving the health of women and girls.

Dr. Cheryl PhillipsWhen I came to OWH in 2011, I'd worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for over 20 years as a physician and epidemiologist. A big part of my work there had been research to learn more about the health issues women face. At OWH, my role has been quite different. I was no longer discovering the facts — the science — but was learning it from others. I had to take that information and bring it to the table to start conversations about the policies and programs that our nation's women and girls need to lead healthier lives. This is hard work, but it has been an honor to speak up on behalf of women and girls and ensure that leaders and policy makers understand their unique health needs.

While I may no longer be leading this Office, I'm leaving you in good hands. I know that OWH has become stronger than ever with more capabilities and top talent who offer diverse perspectives. I'm so grateful for my team's dedication and hard work.

I'll miss working with fabulous and committed coworkers, as well as the champions outside OWH who work tirelessly to improve the health of women and girls. Together, we've accomplished much over the past five and half years. Some of the major highlights include the work we've done to address violence against women, which includes supporting federal campaigns and initiatives such as It's On Us and NotAlone.gov, as well as our new grant program, College Sexual Assault Policy and Prevention Initiative, to help put an end to campus sexual assault. I'm also proud of OWH's advances in making health information easily accessible to all women and girls through our vibrant social media channels and websites. Lastly, I'd like to mention our efforts to help moms understand the Affordable Care Act's breastfeeding benefits and to make it easier for employers to support nursing moms where they work.

As I look to the future of women's health, the key to continued progress is thinking about women's health comprehensively. First, women's health is so much more than "bikini medicine" (the part that is covered by a bikini). Instead, we need to look at women's health across the lifespan — from the issues girls face to those of older women who are dealing with heart disease, Alzheimer's, caregiver responsibilities, and so much more. Additionally, and just as importantly, we need to stress the importance of sex and gender differences when it comes to health. We can't keep lumping women's and men's health together, because there are important biologic and social differences that must be considered from the outset when designing research, messaging, and programs. To make progress for women, girls, men, and boys, we need to improve the science around the sex and gender differences. I have a daughter and a son, so I care about men's health, too. I want all of us to achieve the best possible health, because we all deserve it.

So here's to you and your health! I know the staff at OWH and the rest of HHS will continue to tackle the issues most important to you — and to me. With much gratitude, I bid a fond farewell to so many individuals out there committed to this mission!