2012: Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH

Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The 24th Annual  J. Warren Perry speaker was Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH.  Koh serves as the 14th assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), after being nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2009.

Koh oversees 14 core public health offices, including the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, 10 Regional Health Offices across the nation, and 10 Presidential and Secretarial advisory committees. He also serves as senior public health advisor to the Secretary. The Office of Assistant Secretary for Health implements an array of interdisciplinary programs relating to disease prevention, health promotion, the reduction of health disparities, women’s and minority health, adolescent health, HIV/AIDS and chronic infectious diseases, vaccine programs, fitness, sports and nutrition, bioethics, population affairs, blood supply, research integrity and human research protections. As the assistant secretary for health, Koh is dedicated to the mission of creating better public health systems for prevention and care so that all people can reach their highest attainable standard of health.

Koh previously served as the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and associate dean for public health practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was also director of the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Public Health Preparedness. He has published more than 200 articles in the medical and public health literature in areas such as disparities, cancer control, melanoma and skin oncology, tobacco control, public health preparedness, disease prevention and health promotion, and public health leadership.  Koh served as commissioner of public health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1997-2003) after being appointed by Governor William Weld. As commissioner, Koh led the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which included a wide range of health services, and a staff of more than 3,000 professionals.  In this capacity, he emphasized the power of prevention and strengthened the state’s commitment to eliminating health disparities.  During his service, the state saw advances in areas such as tobacco control, cancer screening, bioterrorism response after 9/11 and anthrax, health issues of the homeless, newborn screening, organ donation, suicide prevention and internal public health partnerships.

Koh graduated from Yale College, where he was president of the Yale Glee Club, and the Yale University School of Medicine.  He completed postgraduate training at Boston City Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, serving as chief resident in both hospitals.  He has earned board certification in four medical fields:  internal medicine, hematology, medical oncology, and dermatology, as well as a Master of Public Health degree from Boston University.  At Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, he was professor of dermatology, medicine and public health, as well as director of cancer prevention and control.

He has earned numerous awards and honors for interdisciplinary accomplishments in medicine and public health, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award for National Service, the Distinguished Service Award from the American Cancer Society, and the Drs. Jack E. White/LaSalle D. Leffall Cancer Prevention Award from the American Association for Cancer Research and the Intercultural Cancer Council. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. President Bill Clinton appointed Koh as a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board (2000-2002). A past chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for a Health Future (the group that pushed for the Commonwealth’s groundbreaking tobacco control initiative), Koh was named by the New England Division of the American Cancer Society as “one of the most influential persons in the fight against tobacco during the last 25 years.” He was named to the K100 (the 100 leading Korean Americans in the first century of Korean immigration to the United States), and has received the Boston University Distinguished Alumnus Award, as well as honorary degrees from Merrimack College and Drexel University. He has the distinction of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on two different occasions: at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services (2011), and at Fenway Park when he was designated a “Medical All Star” by the Boston Red Sox (2003) in recognition of his national contributions to the field of early detection and prevention of melanoma.

Koh and his wife, Claudia Arrigg, are the proud parents of three children.