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A Physician Reflects on Building a Local Response to a Global Pandemic

Jeffrey L. Levin, MD, MSPH, DrPH, FACOEM, FACP
American Board of Internal Medicine
Specialty: Internal Medicine
American Board of Preventive Medicine
Specialty: Occupational Medicine

While winding down a lifelong academic career in medicine, Jeffrey Levin, MD, expected to feel a peaceful sense of pride and accomplishment. After all, he helped train the next generation of physicians to provide expert and compassionate care for patients for decades to come. What he didn’t expect was to be serving on a team that would plan the local response to a deadly, global pandemic.

Teamwork
“This unexpected event at the end of my career reinforced something I had always valued: really listening to the input and informed opinions of others,” said Dr. Levin. “Everyone brings a certain expertise to the table. Lives depended on what our response team decided, so carefully listening and understanding, especially with remote challenges, was critical.”

As the Responsible Official for the Public Health Laboratory of East Texas, and Local Health Authority for Smith County, Texas, Dr. Levin served a role in the joint emergency operations center for the community, municipal, county, and public health department leadership. Together, the Center’s team discussed and planned the pandemic response in an open and collaborative manner, taking advantage of the capacity, efficiency, and unique skills and assets offered by each entity. “It was a privilege to have a seat at this ‘socially distanced’ table to share my knowledge, experience, and expertise as a preventive medicine/occupational medicine specialist and public health physician scientist.”

This innovative local collaboration was recently recognized for its forward-thinking and effective organization by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University in its “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience”:

“An excellent example of the relevant kind of coordination is already available in the collaboration between the City of Tyler, Texas, Smith County, and the Northeast Texas Public Health District. Instead of having independent operations centers for a crisis, for the first time they have a joint operations center where municipal, county, and health district teams think and plan together. This partnership has permitted the county and district health officials to build out a contact tracing strategy using personnel redeployed from the municipal level, for instance fire and police personnel and restaurant inspectors. The organizational innovation has permitted a marriage of public health expertise with municipal resource capacity…these local leaders have innovated in the organizational direction described above to make contact tracing possible in their community.”

Pride
Dr. Levin has always been proud to be a board certified specialist in preventive medicine, but he believes the specialty played an important role in our nation’s COVID-19 response. “It was a joy to see all that my profession could offer communities during this crisis,” said Dr. Levin. “Preventive medicine specialists not only diagnose and treat individual patients, but they play a major role in clinically managing populations. They possess medical knowledge and patient care competencies in population health, including skills in epidemiology and biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, as well as social and behavioral health.”

Education
Dr. Levin took advantage of several online continuing education opportunities during the pandemic. Two of particular note were offered by the American Public Health Association: “Testing: Possibilities, Challenges, and Ensuring Equity” and “Toward the ‘New Normal’—Protecting Public Health as America Reopens.”

Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Levin serves as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost and Professor, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

(Published: June 23, 2020)


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