Sonia Angell, M.D., M.P.H. is a 2004 graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program. Before medical school, Angell was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and a community organizer in the U.S. She chose a career in medicine after seeing the impact doctors could have on the health of individuals and in creating change in low-income communities and communities of color. “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 the second half of her goal – healing communities – required a specific skill set she lacked. The program offered the promise of imparting a wide range of skills while being flexible enough to accommodate the unique aspirations of each scholar. It delivered!
Angell evaluated each site offering the program 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 their 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 most impactful approaches to improve the cardiovascular health of New Yorkers,” recalls Angell. “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 IRB when new research or evaluation was required, and collecting and analyzing data.
An example of her team’s policy work includes the restriction of use of trans fats in New York City restaurants, and setting food nutrition procurement standards for NYC government agencies, policies which since spread across other jurisdictions. 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.
“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.”
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 a myriad of partners including the World Health Organization, Ministries of Health from low and middle income countries, and other global health leaders.
In 2014, Dr. Angell returned to New York City Department of Health to serve as Deputy Commissioner overseeing the Division of Prevention and Primary Care. Overseeing a staff of more than 300 and an annual budget exceeding 60 million, her Division builds upon a history of cutting-edge policy and programming in primary health care delivery systems and communities, applying an integrated public health and clinical care approach in its work. Division initiatives include a diverse portfolio such as electronic health record implementation and clinical quality care improvement, Medicaid enrollment assistance and advocacy for overcoming barriers to health care access, and innovative nutrition and tobacco control policy development and implementation.