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WOMEN+POWER 2023: Dr. Rachel Levine

In any administration, the public health of Americans is a priority – a tenet that signifies prosperity and perseverance among us. But during a global pandemic, when relative calm turns to crisis seemingly overnight, community well-being instantly becomes a matter of life or death for millions of Americans.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this kept Adm. Rachel Levine up at night.

Levine is the U.S. assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, where she leads a group of 6,000 uniformed public health officers.

In normal times, her job is important. During the pandemic, it was crucial.

“I really feel that everything I’ve ever done, whether it was in academic medicine, in education, in clinical research, seeing my patients in my role in public health, in Pennsylvania and now my role nationally,” Levine said, “all led to this moment in terms of helping the nation through this greatest public health crisis that we have faced in over a hundred years.”

Levine, 64, a trained pediatrician, became the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender official when the Senate confirmed her as assistant secretary of health. Levine has spent her professional life in medicine – as an academic, a clinical researcher, a primary care physician and as Pennsylvania’s physical general and secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health – but she admits her current role has proven to be the most challenging.

Post-pandemic, Levine said she is concerned about the challenges women and girls face related to body image. She ran an eating disorder program at Penn State University and was struck by the pressures of social media related to appearance.

“We need to be welcoming and celebratory for women of all aspects, of all sizes and shapes,” she said. “And we have to work towards that compassion for all women and not put such an emphasis on thinness and appearance. I think that we need to work as a culture in the United States, but also globally, to be more compassionate and more accepting of girls and women, no matter what their size and shape.”

Still, Levine believes that women are largely responsible for the positive changes we are seeing in society.

“Women are absolutely critical in terms of promoting healthy behaviors for themselves and their families and our communities,” Levine said. “I think women are often the creators of change. In terms of the changes that we see in our society and our culture, I think that women are those change makers.”

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