Promoting Community Health and Education: A Conversation with Christopher King
By Lily Odenwelder (H'26)
On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, our Conversations in Health: Global to Local class had the privilege of speaking with Christopher King, dean of Georgetown University School of Health. As a School of Health student myself (H‘26), I greatly enjoyed this meeting with Dean King and was excited to know more about his plans for the School of Health and the experience he brings to this role.
Dean King has a background in community health and education, and he especially has a passion for combining the two as a lifelong health educator. Dean King’s career has also taken the shape of organizational leadership and strategic management, which will both surely serve him well in his new role as dean.
Another major aspect of Dean King’s background and career is his focus on working toward health equity. He believes that health is more than just our ability to provide medical care: we must think holistically and operate on the larger scale that is public health.
To follow this passion, Dean King has worked for a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which are institutions that provide primary care services regardless of insurance or citizenship status, and he has spent hours writing grants and strategizing to make his workplaces more equitable. For example, one of his grants had the goal of increasing the representation of the Spanish-speaking population coming in for care.
Dean King is an advocate for partnering with the communities being served by having open communication with community leaders, shifting the power to give more back to the community, practicing humility, etc. As the service providers, hospitals and other health institutions must be very aware of the socioeconomic state of the communities they serve and the way that this status leads into the inequitable social determinants of health that negatively affect their health outcomes.
In particular, Dean King has done a lot of research on structural racism being a root cause of health disparity, and the importance of open discussion of this and the other forms of racism that affect the health care system. One way that Dean King mentioned we can have an environment that constructively confronts this is by educating the next generation of medical professionals and re-educating the current generations of medical professionals that race is a social construct, that we need to build strong foundations of trust and respect (which have been nonexistent for centuries) with marginalized communities, that there are a plethora of disparities resulting from inequitable conditions, etc.
Dean King argues that we need “atonement in policy and practice” for the disparities and inequities that we have continued to ignore or perpetuate in our health care system. He suggests that we can work toward this goal by performing comprehensive racial equity audits and investing in local communities. It is insufficient to just look at the numbers: we must dig deeper to discover the root causes of disparities so that we may begin to eliminate them.
One last message of Dean King’s that I particularly loved hearing about was that we can’t be resistant to change in the education sphere. Change is always coming and always necessary in our system, so we must embrace it, and I can’t wait to see how Dean King does exactly that for the School of Health in the coming years.
Lily Odenwelder (H'26) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying global health. She is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.