The islandista doctor behind a public health revolution: Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris

Have you heard of Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris?

Because Hillary Clinton has and enlisted her to work with the Clinton Foundation on the Too Small to Fail paediatric health initiative.

And New Yorker Magazine has.

And Huffington Post and a host of others.

But that’s not the reason you should hit google after reading this and find out even more about this amazing young Jamaican-American doctor.

You should read about her because she is transforming paediatric public health care by taking a 360 approach to diagnosing and dealing with children’s ailments by looking at the impact of childhood trauma and adverse events on long-term health outcomes.

She speaks about it in some detail in the Makers video embedded here (as well as her immigrant background and her experience moving from nearly all-black Jamaica to nearly all-white Palo Alto, California) but the premise is this – poverty and trauma makes children sick. Or to go into greater detail –  when children experience trauma in their lives – physical or sexual abuse, death or incarceration of parents, witnessing domestic or community violence, these events make them far more likely to suffer from a range of health problems both in childhood and later on in life.

Dr Nadine Burke Harris 1Dr. Burke-Harris has worked for almost her entire career treating low-income patients in San Francisco through her clinic, the Center for Youth Wellness. As such, her years of experience gave her a sense that there was a connection between the sometimes run of the mill physical ailments she was treating and the difficult backgrounds many of the children came from.

But her ‘aha!’ moment came in 2008 when a clinic colleague shared a medical article he had read online about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and their impact on health. Burke-Harris described it as:

“I could hear the angels singing. The clouds parted. It was like that scene at the end of ‘The Matrix’ where Neo can see the whole universe bending and changing.”

She set to work bending and changing her clinic’s own approach to treating their patients and has been a driving force in pushing the medical and philanthropic communities to make the link between social issues and health.

Now with her Clinton connection and the ears of top-level philanthropists like Tipping Point Community’s Daniel Lurie ( Levi-Strauss heirs), she is on her way to achieving the ambitious goal of CYW which is:

“To create a clinical model that recognizes and effectively treats toxic stress in children and to change the standard of pediatric practice in our nation.”

Big goals but we already know that islandistas are about going big.

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