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Former Florida State Surgeon General talks pandemic preparedness, public health policy

Scott Rivkees reflects on work as public health leader during Q&A event

<p>Former Florida State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, professor of the practice of health services, addressed political polarization in the United States and its relationship to COVID-19 at the event. </p>

Former Florida State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, professor of the practice of health services, addressed political polarization in the United States and its relationship to COVID-19 at the event. 

Former Florida State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice at the School of Public Health, discussed pandemic preparedness and his experience as a public health leader on  Wednesday at a Q&A event hosted by the Ivy League+ Pre-health Society.

The event was organized as part of the society’s mission to create “mentorship opportunities with guest speakers like (Rivkees),” said Pre-Health Society President Justin Perry ’23, who moderated the event. Rivkees joined the Department of Health Services, Policy and Practice at the School of Public Health last fall following his tenure as state surgeon general, The Herald previously reported

At the Q&A, Rivkees discussed ways to organize state health departments to improve pandemic preparedness. 

“You have different models for departments of health,” Rivkees said. Some states like New York and Florida have centralized departments with the ability to coordinate statewide responses, while others have less centralized systems that can be beneficial because “responses happen locally,” he explained.

“There are certain advantages for both systems,” he said, adding that incorporating “the best of each” could improve state health departments. 

Rivkees also addressed political polarization in the United States and its relationship to COVID-19. 

“Mortality in counties (from COVID-19) is related not to age, but who (individuals) voted for,” Rivkees said, adding that partnerships with community leaders can help address polarization. 

“One of the things that I've learned is that you really (need) to have trusted community partners,” he said. “Making sure that, irrespective of individuals’ political affiliations, there are trusted individuals that (others) listen to and respect to help address issues down the road.”

During the talk, Rivkees recounted his most memorable experiences as state surgeon general, describing the day Florida came down from a level one state of emergency. 

“I got to address the emergency operation center (of) several hundred people that had been together, day and night, fighting this pandemic,” he said. “The ability to thank everybody for the amazing job and sacrifice they did was really memorable.”

At the event, Rivkees discussed the ways in which his background as a physician informed his work as state surgeon general. 

“As a physician, you see what issues affect individuals (and) you can see individuals who suffer,” Rivkees said. “You can see … how you can make a difference” through various health-related programs. 

Members of the Pre-health Society who attended the event praised Rivkees’s insight into contemporary public health issues in the United States. 

Perry — a student in Rivkees’s class PHP 1450: “COVID-19, Public Health and Health Policy” — highlighted the professor’s “thoughts, opinions and insights into public health, current events and how things are unfolding with COVID-19.”

​Ibrahim Ndiaye ’23, community outreach coordinator for the Pre-health Society, said Rivkees’s talk was “eye opening.”

“It gave me a lot of insight into the current political climate,” Ndiaye said. “Other times, COVID-19 is at the back of people's minds, and the pandemic in general is just something that people don't think about. So this is really something I was looking forward to. I really enjoyed the talk.”

Correction: A previous version of this story contained a photo caption for a different article. It has since been updated to reflect the contents of this story. The Herald regrets the error.

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Neil Mehta

Neil Mehta is a designer and senior staff writer at The Herald covering the Diversity beat. He is a sophomore from New York studying public health. 



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