A Conversation with Dr. Alicia Fernandez – Newly Appointed Associate Dean for Population Health and Health Equity

We talked with newly appointed Associate Dean for Population Health and Health Equity Dr. Alicia Fernandez about her new role, post-COVID opportunities, and the benefits of not returning to “normal.”

In her new capacity, Dr. Fernandez will work under long-time collaborator and UCSF Vice Dean for Population Health and Health Equity, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, whose weekly convenings during the pandemic illustrated how a population health focus across settings and sites could promote economies of scale and accelerate learning. Helping the UCSF community create similarly meaningful synergies post-COVID through collaboration, convenings, and resource identification is what Dr. Fernandez is most excited about: “People are doing incredibly exciting work at this amazing institution. In this role I can support the great work they’re already doing in population health.”

She sees an imperative to capitalize on new collaborations forged during the pandemic to focus on the health of communities, including partnerships among academic institutions like UCSF, departments of public health, community based organizations, and the private sector. “The COVID emergency forced all of us to get serious. It showed us that we can be much nimbler than we were previously. We can do things faster and better,” she notes, emphasizing “We can also do things in different ways, working with different people.”

She is cautiously optimistic, citing the way organizations shifted during the pandemic from their traditional areas into the health arena: “Many of the groups I’ve worked with in the Latinx community were focused exclusively on economic issues pre-pandemic. COVID forced them to focus on health issues. Now the question is whether they’ll go back to where they were before. It’s a very exciting opportunity and also uncharted territory.”

While we celebrate the budding economic recovery, Dr. Fernandez cautions that we need to remain committed to addressing urgent population health challenges. “There’s still a lot of economic and mental health stress in the community. Substance use has gotten worse during the pandemic,” she notes, adding, “Now is the time to ask, what do we want to keep that was good during the pandemic? And what do we want to return to “normal” understanding that “normal” wasn’t so great for moderate and low income people in San Francisco, especially with respect to health.”

She looks forward to leveraging her deep experience – she’s the founding Director of the Latinx Center of Excellence (LCOE) and Director of the Center for Vulnerable Populations Program in Latinx and Immigrant Health – on behalf of all populations, particularly low and moderate income communities. There are a host of areas, including diabetes prevention, mental health, and housing where she could see partnerships expanding among UCSF, community based organizations, schools, public health agencies, and others.

It is all about convening and bringing resources to the table: “We have so many great people at UCSF. My role is to imagine what could be created if we knew about each other’s work – and make those synergies happen. I’m really looking forward to talking with people and seeing where we can make progress.”

When asked whether she had any reservations about taking on another major role, Dr. Fernandez laughs and points out that both she and Dr. Bibbins-Domingo are physician generalists: “Generalists love doing lots of different things!”

Read the full article announcing Dr. Fernandez’ appointment here.