2002-04 Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar
Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of American Health, Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Sonia Angell, M.D., M.P.H., a 2004 graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program (CSP), has served in a range of public health leadership roles, contributing her broad expertise in cardiovascular health and food and nutrition programs to critical policy decisions at the local, state, and global levels.
Angell chose a career in medicine after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and as a community organizer in low-income communities in the U.S. “I was interested in supporting the healing process for both individuals and communities at large,” she explains. “That’s why I became a doctor.” Following medical training and residency, Angell realized that tackling the second component of her goal – healing communities – required a specific skill set she lacked, and sought out the training opportunities offered through the CSP.
Angell evaluated each CSP site before choosing Michigan. “It’s a university with a diversity of strengths, including an impressive School of Public Health renowned for its research in social epidemiology. I knew I could acquire the breadth of research tools I needed in one setting. My mentors came from a wide range of backgrounds, and everyone made the time to help me gain the skills I needed for the direction I wanted to head.”
After completing the program, Angell accepted a position at the New York City Department of Health as founding director of its cardiovascular disease prevention and control program. “The program I was hired to create required a thoughtful understanding of related literature to date. That was necessary to develop a plan to anchored in the evidence of the most impactful approaches to improve the cardiovascular health of New Yorkers,” Angell recalls. “I needed every skill the program taught me for that challenge.” That included understanding data collection methodologies, discerning the reliability of studies, developing evaluation plans, navigating requirements for research participant protection when new research or evaluation was required, and collecting and analyzing data.
An example of her team’s policy work included banning the use of artificial trans fats in New York City restaurants (the first large U.S. city to do so), and setting food nutrition procurement standards for all NYC government agencies. Her program’s activities quickly expanded to involve health centers and clinics and community- and faith-based organizations, in an effort to address other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure. Her team also led the creation of the National Salt Reduction Initiative, working with the food industry to voluntarily lower the amount of sodium found in packaged and restaurant foods, an effort that has now extended to include sugar reduction in these foods.
Angell’s next challenge took her to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) where, as Senior Advisor for Global Noncommunicable Diseases, she was instrumental in creating the CDC’s Global Noncommunicable Disease Unit in the Center for Global Health. In that position, she worked with partners including the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, Ministries of Health from low and middle income countries, and other global health leaders, launching the Global Standardized Hypertension Project to improve blood pressure control across the Americas.
“Sound scientific evidence is the most important component in any policy recommendation. Again and again in my work, I have seen that the best way to counteract partisan politics is to bring forward policies built on a firm foundation of evidence.”
– Sonia Angell
In 2014, Angell returned to New York City Department of Health to serve as Deputy Commissioner overseeing the Division of Prevention and Primary Care, a unit whose integrated public health and clinical care approach builds upon a history of cutting-edge policy and programming within primary health care delivery systems and communities. During Angell’s time there, the division oversaw a range of initiatives, including electronic health record implementation and clinical quality care improvement, Medicaid enrollment assistance and support for overcoming barriers to health care access, innovative nutrition and tobacco control policy development and implementation, and implementing the nation’s first sodium warning rule, covering chain food service establishments.
Since then, Angell has served as California’s State Public Health Officer and director of the California state Department of Public Health, where she was responsible for coordinating the state's early response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, she joined the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of American Health in the Department of Epidemiology, where she is also chairing the Bloomberg American Health Initiative’s steering committee on Food Systems for Health. She is also an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.