Assistant Secretary for Health for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Howard Koh to Rejoin HSPH Faculty

Howard Koh

For immediate release: Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boston, MA — Dr. Howard K. Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be rejoining the faculty at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) this fall in a new position as a Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership in the Department of Health Policy and Management. In his new role, Dr. Koh will also direct the Leading Change Studio, a program of the School’s new doctor of public health program (Harvard DrPH) dedicated to developing public health leadership skills and providing real-world experiential learning opportunities.   He will also advise on leadership curriculum efforts across the School’s doctoral and master’s degree programs, and play a liaison role with Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School to strengthen faculty and student collaborations among the three schools.

Dr. Koh returns to Harvard after spending five years as the 14th Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As Assistant Secretary, Dr. Koh oversaw 12 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 served as senior public health advisor to the Secretary. As the Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Koh strengthened U.S. public health systems in the historic era of the Affordable Care Act and health reform.

“As Assistant Secretary for Health, Howard has been at the forefront of confronting the leading public health issues of our time,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in announcing Dr. Koh’s departure.  “Throughout his tenure, Howard has leveraged his decades of unique experience as a clinician, educator, researcher, advocate and former state public health commissioner to bring better understanding and empathy to underserved populations.”

“Dr. Koh led or played a major role in historic federal efforts to lower the number of uninsured and underinsured Americans, make kids and adults aware of the range of health hazards caused by tobacco use, educate the public about the benefits of colorectal cancer screening, increase the number of low-income people with access to proven cancer screening tests such as mammography, reduce child obesity and so much more,” said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

“Howard’s comprehensive knowledge and experience is certain to strengthen both research and student educational experience within HSPH and our entire Harvard community,” said Harvard School of Public Health Dean Julio Frenk. “We are delighted to welcome him back to the School.”

Dr. Koh has spent most of his career in Boston and in New England. In 1997 Dr. Koh was appointed by then Governor William Weld to lead the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) as Commissioner. As Commissioner from 1997-2003, Dr. Koh oversaw a wide range of public health services and a staff of over 3,000 public health professionals. He emphasized the power of prevention to help all people reach their full potential for health.  Additionally, he strengthened the Department’s commitment to promoting diversity and eliminating health disparities by embracing the health concerns of those most in need.

Under his tenure, the Commonwealth built healthier communities through advances in many areas, among them: tobacco control, AIDS treatment and prevention, substance abuse services, cancer screening and prevention, public health hospitals, newborn screening, health issues of the homeless, coordination of emergency medical services, promotion of mental health as a vital part of public health, organ donation, bioterrorism response and the integration of human rights and public health.

In 2003, Dr. Koh left the Department of Public Health to become Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, and Director of the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Public Health Preparedness at HSPH. He was also the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health.  At HSPH, he also served as Principal Investigator of multiple research grants totaling $19 million, funded by NIH, CDC and the Association of Schools of Public Health.

Dr. Koh began his career by earning a BA and MD from Yale University followed by a MPH from the Boston University School of Public Health.  Before becoming Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health he held multiple academic positions at BU.

Dr. Koh is one of a few U.S. physicians who have earned board certification in four medical fields including internal medicine, hematology, medical oncology, and dermatology as well as a Master of Public Health degree.  His publications in the medical and public health literature span the fields of health disparities, cancer control, melanoma and skin oncology, tobacco control, public health preparedness, health literacy, health reform, disease prevention and health promotion, and public health leadership.

For more information:

Todd Datz

photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Harvard School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at HSPH teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.