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California's 1st Surgeon General Spotlights Health Risks Of Childhood Adversity (


In an interview last year, after her book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, was published, Burke Harris told NPR's Cory Turner, "We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take ... our little piece, it's nuts how far we'll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took Burke Harris up on her challenge, appointing her the first-ever surgeon general of California. Newsom cites the toxic stress of childhood trauma as among the root causes "of many of the most harmful and persistent health challenges facing Californians."

I recently spoke with Burke Harris about her work and about what it means to her, particularly as a black woman, to serve as her state's first surgeon general — one of only three such positions in the United States.

Interview Highlights

On the role of racism and discrimination in high maternal mortality, particularly among black women, who are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

Health equity is one of the priority areas for my role. I'm currently working to understand better what the California Department of Public Health's approach has been on addressing this issue. I also want to get a better understanding of what the drivers are behind what we're seeing in maternal mortality and to see [to] what extent we can understand the impact of toxic stress and cumulative adversity.

To read more of Erika Stallings' article, please click here.

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