Garth Graham, MD, MPH

Garth Graham, MD, MPH

FMA Member Physician highlight

Health Equity Influencer
By Erika D. Peterman, FMA Managing Editor

From his first years as a practicing cardiologist in South Florida to leading Google/YouTube’s new digital health initiative, Garth Graham, MD, MPH, has placed an emphasis on understanding the whole patient. “Not just the heart as an organ, but a heart attached to a person who is experiencing all kinds of social and environmental challenges,” Dr. Graham told the FMA in a 2019 interview. “A lot of health occurs outside of the doctor’s office.”

Since becoming Director and Global Head of Healthcare and Public Health Partnerships for YouTube in January, Dr. Graham has guided an ambitious plan to connect healthcare consumers and medical experts beyond physical exam rooms – specifically, by delivering credible health information to the video platform’s two billion-plus monthly users while offering physicians an opportunity to share their knowledge with a worldwide audience.

Collaborating organizations include the National Academy of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, the Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health, the American Public Health Association, and others.

Increasing consumers’ access to sound health information is especially important at a time when the medical community is urging eligible patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This fall, several FMA member physicians have appeared in unscripted videos promoting COVID-19 vaccines as part of a joint public service campaign with the Florida Hospital Association.

“Health authorities around the world have a tremendous challenge in the months ahead to continue to educate people about the new COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Graham said in an interview on YouTube’s official blog. “But the scale and reach of platforms like YouTube, that allow for engaging, easy-to-understand information to be shared easily and efficiently, can help meet that challenge and improve community health long into the future.”

Dr. Graham’s current role is, in many ways, a continuation of his work over the past 25 years as a physician, public health expert, and influential health equity advocate. Board-certified in internal medicine, cardiology, and interventional cardiology, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Prior to joining Google/YouTube, he was Vice President and Chief Community Health Officer for CVS Health, as well as President of the Aetna Foundation. At the Aetna Foundation, he led a major initiative to create healthier communities by awarding millions of dollars in grant funds to local health programs across the United States.

Dr. Graham is widely recognized as a leader in the movement to address the social determinants of health (SDOH), an umbrella term for factors including socioeconomic status, education, living environment, and healthcare access, which overwhelmingly affect a person’s quality of life. During his childhood in Jamaica, Dr. Graham often accompanied his mother to the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Those experiences sparked a lifelong interest in improving outcomes for underserved patients.

“When I was younger, I saw all the things (my mother) was doing for folks who were sick and socially isolated,” he told the FMA. “Sometimes the visiting nurse provided the only physical or emotional interaction they would have for the day. Having that contact was so important, not just in terms of a certain procedure but what it meant for their social connectedness.”

After moving to the U.S. at age 17 to study biology at Florida International University, Dr. Graham went on to earn his master’s degree in public health and his medical degree from Yale University. He has won numerous awards for his work to advance health equity, and an award for other trailblazers in the field now bears his name: The University of North Texas Health Center at Fort Worth, the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, and YouTube announced the inaugural Garth N. Graham, MD, MPH Distinguished Lectureship Award in September.