Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician, was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine, Academy President Victor Dzau announced Oct. 15 during the organization’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Walker is one of 75 new members this year from across the country and 10 international members. Membership in the National Academy of Medicine recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service.
“I congratulate Dr. Walker on being elected to the National Academy of Medicine,” said Gov. John Carney. “Dr. Walker uses her problem-solving, outreach and leadership skills to take on such complex issues in our state as the opioid epidemic and the rising growth in health care spending. She doesn’t back away from these issues. She leans in, bringing people together, using data and other resources to assess situations and changing systems to better serve the people of our state.”
Walker was sworn in as cabinet secretary for DHSS in February 2017, leading the principal agency charged with keeping Delawareans healthy, ensuring they get the health care they need in a fast-changing world, and providing children, families and seniors with essential social services including food benefits, disability-related services and mental health and addiction treatment. She oversees a Delaware government department with an annual budget of more than $2 billion. As cabinet secretary, her priorities include slowing the growth of health care spending, increasing the transparency of health care costs and improving patient outcomes; bolstering the state’s response to the opioid epidemic with increased resources for treatment, harm reduction and prevention; reducing gun violence in Wilmington by meeting the social services needs of high-risk young people and their families; maintaining a strong safety net for those in need; and providing more community-based services for seniors, people with disabilities and individuals who are homeless.
Prior to being nominated to head DHSS by Carney, Walker worked as the deputy chief science officer at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, a nonprofit, nongovernment organization in Washington, D.C., that is authorized by Congress to improve evidence available to help patients, caregivers, employers, insurers and policymakers make informed health care decisions. She managed the institute’s research investments, which totaled $1.6 billion in 2016, toward a planned total of $2.5 billion by 2019.
“Those of us who had the great pleasure to work with Kara during her four and a half years at PCORI are thrilled with her well-earned election to the National Academy of Medicine,” said Joe V. Selby, executive director of PCORI. “It recognizes the diligent work and exceptional contributions she’s made at every stop throughout her training and career. She brings tremendous knowledge and insight to the academy as it pursues its mission of improving health for all.”
Walker formerly taught Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, as an assistant clinical professor, and has worked with several national organizations to advocate for health equity and for access to quality health care in minority and underserved populations, including the National Medical Association, the Student National Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Walker has been recognized for leadership by Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development, the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association.
A Caravel Academy high school graduate, she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware and her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. She has a Masters of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a master’s degree in health services research from the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health, where she also completed a post-graduate fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program. As a family physician, Walker has provided direct patient care in many primary care settings, including those for uninsured and underserved populations. She has published research papers on physician workforce issues, health care organization and delivery.