Adewale Troutman: NewPublicHealth Q&A

Oct 31, 2012, 4:50 PM

Adewale Troutman, APHA Adewale Troutman, APHA

Adewale Troutman, MD, MPH, becomes president of the American Public Health Association today. Dr. Troutman is the former head of the Metro Louisville (Kentucky) Department of Health and Wellness, and is currently a professor of public health practice at the University of South Florida. NewPublicHealth spoke to him this week about his vision and mission.

NewPublicHealth: Are you hopeful about the future?

Dr. Troutman: I am always hopeful about the future, I have seen so much in the past. One of the sad stories that I often think about is as a kid seeing the cover of Jet Magazine and a picture of Emmett Till who was murdered in the South, accused of whistling at a white woman. That was a low point for me as a kid because I was a child and I was absolutely terrified that something like that might happen to me.  So much has happened since then. I mean I had a high school average of 69, my first semester at a community college was a .38. I didn’t know anything about school or college and yet here I stand today, many years later, with some five degrees, an emergency medicine physician, running health departments for the last 15 years now ascending to the presidency of this organization. You got to be hopeful with that kind of a background. So yes, I am very hopeful. 

NPH: What’s ahead for public health under your leadership?

Dr. Troutman: We are looking now and ahead at a definition of health that is much more than just going to the doctor’s office. Health is not health care.  Health care is a part of the spectrum of health and we need to look at it that way.

Together with non-traditional partners we are looking at social determinants -- the things that are responsible for the health of populations and you find things like housing, education, neighborhoods, urban blight, crime and punishment,  early childhood development, and social isolation. You have to be in partnership to address those issues because they are other people’s fields of specialization and we need to find a way to recognize that all of them act together synergistically to improve the health of a community. And a healthy community is a fair community. 

In my health department in Louisville for instance we reached out to Jobs for Justice.  Some asked if I was crazy, and I said no. Employment status is an integral part of the health of populations and communities. And there are people out there that have more of a history or more expertise in social justice, community organizing, policy development, than maybe we do. So why shouldn’t we be in an equal partnership with them? 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.