Dr. Reed V. Tuckson and the Vocation of Public Health

February Dean’s Conversation event, held in honor of Black History Month, welcomed the distinguished public health veteran, former D.C. Public Health Commissioner and co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID.

On Monday, February 26, Dean Ashish Jha hosted a special edition of the Dean’s Conversation Series at Providence’s Hope Club. The event featured Reed V. Tuckson M.D., FACP, managing director of Tuckson Health Connections, LLC, an organization dedicated to promoting health and preventing disease through innovative approaches in data analytics, care delivery efficiency, telehealth and biotech. Dr. Tuckson is also a co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID, leading efforts to combat the recent pandemic in Washington, D.C. and across the country.

With a distinguished career that includes roles as president of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group and commissioner of public health for the District of Columbia during the height of the AIDS epidemic, Dr. Tuckson’s impact on the field of public health has been profound.

Currently, Tuckson focuses on his role as co-convener of the Coalition for Trust in Health & Science, working to unify the healthcare industry in combating mistrust and disinformation, challenges he described in his conversation with Dean Jha, as the most pressing of those facing Black America.

Stefanie Friedhoff, co-founder and co-director of the Information Futures Lab at Brown, introduced Reed as someone “who has been a pivotal figure in health equity for a long time, who has demonstrated a strong commitment to serving people, not just systems, and is driven by a desire to change the status quo.”

During their conversation, Dean Jha highlighted Dr. Tuckson’s choice of a public health career over a potentially more profitable medical path. Dr. Tuckson shared that he was drawn to public health by the example set by his mother, a visiting nurse who dedicated her days to serving Washington D.C.’s most underserved communities. “This early exposure of health care’s human side profoundly influenced me,” he said. Later, his tenure as deputy commissioner of public health in D.C. introduced him to the social determinants of health, while his studies at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, augmented his grasp of health care economics.

Encountering the root social and environmental factors of poor health was an “eye-opening” moment for Tuckson. His shift from clinical roles to overseeing social services for D.C.’s Department of Human Services taught him lessons in empathy, compassion and the necessity of comprehensive care for vulnerable populations, including the developmentally disabled.

Dean Jha asked Tuckson to share the origins of the Black Coalition Against Covid.

It was in the early stages of the pandemic, Tuckson said, and he was facing the reality of widespread casualties among, not only patients, but the health care workforce itself. On Easter Sunday 2020, he launched a grassroots movement to address COVID-19 in the Black community. Without funding or institutional support, he called on faith leaders, artists, advocates and academics to promote mask-wearing and vaccines. This coalition quickly played a key role in addressing the pandemic within the Black community. 

“ I’m focused on how we reach people in both red states and blue. What we are talking about is effective interventions to reach people and bring communities together. ”

Reed V. Tuckson M.D., FACP Managing Director of Tuckson Health Connections

Tuckson’s efforts demonstrated the power of leadership in times of crisis and the importance of using trusted messengers to deliver public health guidance. Importantly, the efforts of the Black Coalition Against COVID and many others committed to this work, led to an increase in life expectancy among Black Americans during the pandemic, even surpassing that of white counterparts living in conservative areas of the country.

“I’m focused on how we reach people in both red states and blue,” he said. “What we are talking about is effective interventions to reach people and bring communities together.”

Tuckson called out disinformation and mistrust as the most challenging issues of our time. “The question is what are we going to do about it and the solution for Black communities will be the same for everyone else.”

At the close of the conversation, Tuckson urged students of public health to continue their work undaunted. “Please take that gentle little flame inside of you – whatever it is that causes you to want to do this kind of work – and nurture it, protect it. Be attentive to what you read; read novels and not social media. Don’t get cynical or let anyone take away from you your commitment to human survival.”

February 26, 2024


Dean's Conversation with Reed Tuckson