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April 13, 2023

Expanding Our Understanding of Health Care: Our Conversation with Dean Christopher King

By Arjun Narayan (H'25)

On April 4, 2023 Georgetown University’s Conversations in Health: Global to Local class welcomed Dr. Christopher King, dean of Georgetown’s School of Health, as the course’s final speaker to discuss his storied career in advancing innovative and equitable approaches in the health care and education spaces. As we participated in Dean King’s interactive discussion, I gained an appreciation for how education can be a guiding light in a rapidly changing health care space. Dean King’s journey to becoming the inaugural leader of Georgetown’s School of Health illustrates the importance of hard work and embracing change in the health care system, and how we can begin to redefine our traditional understanding of health care to truly help the millions who have been left underserved by the current system.

Throughout his many roles in the health care system, Dean King detailed his extensive experience in understanding and realizing the importance of the social determinants of health in affecting health care change in this country. Starting from his role as director for Greater Baden Medical Services Inc, a Federally Qualified Health Center located in Maryland, Dean King understood that health care outcomes could not sustainably improve without a holistic understanding of the socioeconomic structures that affect care. He illustrated this with a specific experience in writing a grant for Greater Baden Services, where he attempted to bridge the language gap for the majority Spanish-speaking population that the system serviced. Although I have had an extensive education on the social determinants of health through the health care management and policy major curriculum, I found Dean King’s experiences especially illuminating with regards to the practical experiences acquired in encountering the social determinants of health.

Dean King then transitioned to a role within MedStar Health, where he served as the first assistant vice president of community health. Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this role became especially important in guiding the socially-focused reforms that the ACA brought to the health care system, such as community needs assessments. Dean King played an active role in conducting community needs assessments in his role at MedStar, comprehensively understanding how MedStar community members faced barriers to care. This role would allow Dean King to understand how the social determinants of health, specifically systemic racism, can functionally affect care, even when others within the health care system did not share this same understanding.

Thus, following his role at MedStar Health, Dean King joined our Georgetown community, beginning first as an associate professor in the Department of Health Services Administration and later becoming chair of the department. In his role here, Dean King brought the wealth of experience he acquired in industry roles, contributing to scholarship and teaching regarding health equity efforts. His role in guiding health care education through the lens of equity led to his recent appointment as the inaugural dean of the School of Health, chartering a new future for health education at Georgetown. In a celebrated career characterized by embracing change, one of the students in our class asked Dean King what his greatest accomplishment was. He responded that the impact he has left on students, from his role as a high school health educator to dean of a school, has been his greatest accomplishment. To that end, one of the final words he left our class with was regarding a “magic wand” in which one solution could eliminate all health care disparities. The solution Dean King proposed was for all children in this country to have access to a high-quality education.

It was here where I realized the alignment of education and health care in transitioning our understanding of medical care to health care. While we may discuss and deliberate about the numerous policy proposals that may affect the social determinants of health, the hard work truly begins when we begin to understand that confronting this issue requires a more broad and comprehensive approach. To expand our understanding of health care, we must play an active role in educating the populations around us to the notion that health care does not stop in the exam room, and to look inward at the societal structures that govern how certain populations access care. Dean King is truly shepherding this effort as dean of our new School of Health, and I am truly excited to see the exciting collaborations and opportunities he will bring to Georgetown as we enter a new era of health care.

Arjun Narayan (H'25) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying health care management and policy with a minor in statistics. He is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.