Director of California Department of Public Health: Who Is Karen Smith?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Dr. Karen Smith

Napa County is losing its longtime public health officer to the state. Governor Jerry Brown announced the appointment of Dr. Karen Lee Smith, an infectious disease specialist, as director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

She succeeds Dr. Ron Chapman, who resigned at the end of January. The department is the lead agency in California providing detection, treatment, prevention and surveillance of public health and environmental issues. It has a $3-billion budget and employs 3,580 people.

Dr. Smith, 58, earned a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. She worked in communicable disease control in Morocco, Thailand and Nepal before receiving a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1992.

Smith held several positions at Stanford’s School of Medicine from 1992 to 2004, including resident, fellow and course director. During that time, she served as assistant section chief at the California Department of Health Services Tuberculosis Control Branch from 2000 to 2001 and on the clinical faculty at the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center Division of Infectious Diseases from 2001 to 2004.

Dr. Smith has been a faculty consultant at the Francis J. Curry International Tuberculosis Center since 1997.

Smith joined the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency in 2004 and has served as public health officer and deputy director. She has been on the medical staff for infectious disease at Queen of the Valley Medical Center since 2012.

Smith is a liaison to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Board of Scientific Counselors. She is president-elect of the California Conference of Local Health Officers and a member of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, American Public Health Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Napa County Medical Society.

Smith is registered without party preference. The appointment requires confirmation by the state Senate.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Napa Public Health Officer Smith Appointed State Health Officer (by Barry Eberling, Napa Valley Register)

Jerry Brown Names Napa Doctor as New Public Health Chief (by Marjie Lundstrom, Sacramento Bee)

Second Top Boss Leaves California Public Health Department (by Marjie Lundstrom, Sacramento Bee)

Faces of Public Health: Napa County's Karen Smith on Budget Cuts at Local Health Departments (Culture of Health)

Governor Brown Announces Appointments (Office of the California Governor)

California Public Health Department Director Resigning (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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