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Rejoining the World of Women's Health

November 13, 2016
Dr. Karen A. Scott

I'm thrilled to join the team here at OWH. It feels good to be back in the world of women's health — a little like reconnecting with an old friend. Having only started on September 30, after Dr. Nancy Lee's retirement, it's been a whirlwind few weeks getting up to speed, and of course, celebrating OWH's 25th anniversary. What a great way to start as Interim Acting Director at OWH! I'd like to introduce myself by sharing with you some of my past work and what I hope to learn and contribute during my time at OWH.

Dr. Karen A. ScottAround the same time OWH was created, I was the senior program officer at the Commonwealth Fund when we launched the national initiative, Commission on Women's Health. It was an initiative focused on broadening our understanding of women's health issues and health care needs. We worked closely with OWH and other federal leaders, because we all had the same goal: We recognized the great work being done around women's reproductive health, but we needed to address all the other aspects of women's lives to improve their well-being across the lifespan. That's why my colleagues and I at the Commonwealth Fund looked at adolescent health, older women's health, menopause, depression, intimate partner violence, health care decision making, preventive services, and more. Our research contributed to the existing science on women's health, and we issued numerous publications based on our data and national survey findings to deepen the national discussion around the well-being of our nation's women.

Between my time at the Commonwealth Fund and HHS, I have focused on hospital quality and patient safety. I served as the Vice President for Quality and Patient Safety at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and prior to that, I was the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, creating the first office focused on improvement and safety for the entire municipal public hospital system.

I care deeply about improving health outcomes and the quality of health care, especially for more vulnerable populations. It's what led to my joining HHS in March 2016, where I serve as the Chief Medical Officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). Working in this capacity, I have the chance to work across HHS to improve public health and health care service delivery for all Americans. When I was offered the opportunity to be the Interim Acting Director at OWH, I couldn't pass it up. I'm excited to have the opportunity to think about women's health issues again, and to connect the work of OWH with other work across HHS.

I'm quickly learning where we've made progress and what we still need to work on. The improvements have been tremendous. Women are now enjoying longer, healthier lives. We've seen a decrease in death rates from heart disease, stroke, and many cancers, and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 9.5 million women have gained health insurance coverage. However, there are still many areas of women's health that we need to work on. For example, about 64% of women over 18 are overweight or obese; they're almost twice as likely as men to experience depression; over 1 in 5 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime; and women often serve as the primary caregiver for those they love, putting their own health on the backburner.

These issues — along with many others — are top of mind for OWH. Already, I've been incredibly impressed with the depth of the programs OWH is working on and the thoughtfulness given to each project. I am beyond excited to work more closely with the team here on these programs, and I look forward to being part of the conversations that help us determine where there are new opportunities or areas we've yet to focus on. To these discussions, I'll bring my experiences as the Chief Medical Officer at OASH. I'm interested in seeing how we can best support women in varied environments and at various stages across the lifespan.

I'm looking forward to the next few months in my role as Interim Acting Director and helping OWH wrap up its 25th anniversary year. Thanks to the Office, women's health is firmly rooted in the national conversation, and I am honored to continue that work and to help set the direction for the next 25 years.