Headshot of Reed TucksonReed Tuckson, MD, FACP, has spent his career on the front lines of the fight to eliminate health disparities and improve quality and access to care. As executive vice president and chief of medical affairs for UnitedHealth Group, he has been an outspoken advocate for turning off the spigot of preventable chronic diseases. As commissioner of public health for the District of Columbia from 1986 to 1990, Tuckson stepped into the national spotlight when — frustrated with city officials’ inattention to health issues — he donned his white coat and stethoscope and went into the city’s poorest areas to see patients. Tuckson will be a keynote speaker at the opening session of APHA’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, on Sunday, Oct. 28.

How does your long career as a public health professional serve you today as you think about public health services on a national level?

What I have learned from my great pleasure and privilege to be involved with the health of the public is a sense of the immediacy and the comprehensive-ness of the challenges confronting the health of the nation. I think that anyone who has been privileged to be a public health officer or a public health professional has been given the opportunity to experience the epidemiology of disease that confronts the people, the families and the communities in which we live our lives and do our work. When you are made aware of that epidemiology you become so clearly focused on the causes, especially the root causes of those conditions…What you learn so clearly is that the origin of problems is so often comprehensive, so much a function of the social fabric of our community and environmental life. So I think that of all the things I have learned is an appreciation for the complexity…of the challenges and a real appreciation for the importance of working across disciplines, across dimensions, across industries, to really get at a coordinated team approach to make a responsible set of strategic interventions to respond to these challenges.

Read more of the interview with Tuckson in the September 2012 issue of The Nation’s Health or listen to the full interview via podcast.