Dr. Edd Rhoades
Chief Medical Officer
41 years of service
Got any favorite quotes?
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
Who inspires you?
First, I’m inspired by my parents, who instilled in me a strong work ethic, the importance of family, and a desire to help others. In relation to my career at OSDH, I’m have been inspired by Dr. Sara DePersio, who supported me in the development of children’s health services and who encouraged her service and division leaders to strive to be the best in the country. Lastly, I’m inspired by my fellow public health colleagues who come together as a highly functioning team to address each new public health challenge.
If someone was interested in a public health career, what advice or encouragement would you give them?
If you are interested in making a difference in the health outcomes of your community, your state or nationally, public health offers a wide range of career opportunities. Unlike clinical medicine, which focuses on individuals, public health focuses on preventing health problems from occurring within a population, on protecting the health of a population, and on promoting the wellness of a population. By choosing to work in public health, you have the opportunity to improve the health of entire populations.
How did you start working in public health?
My introduction to public health was in 1970 through an externship with the U.S. Public Health Service in Bethesda, Maryland, at the National Institutes of Health. Upon completion of my residency training in pediatrics at the OU Health Sciences Center in 1975, I joined the Commissioned Corp of the U.S. Public Health Service, and was stationed at the U.S. Public Health Service Indian Hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Indian Reservation for three years. I returned to Oklahoma in 1978 when I accepted the position as director of the Pediatric Division, Maternal and Child Health Service, Oklahoma State Department of Health, where I have made public health the focus of my career.
Can you share a few highlights of your experience in public health in Oklahoma? What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I have been privileged to be part of a number of public health initiatives to improve the health of Oklahomans such as newborn screening, child abuse prevention and immunizations. When I first arrived in 1978, Maternal and Child Health and the Public Health Laboratory embarked on the first expansion of newborn screening to include hypothyroidism. This expansion was followed by a series of expansions over the years to where we now screen infants for 54 different conditions including newborn hearing screening.
Another highlight occurred in 1985 when the Office of Child Abuse Prevention (OCAP) was established. Since then, I have worked with the team which implemented the regional community-based child abuse prevention programs. In the mid-1990s, I worked with the team who implemented Children’s First (nurse family partnership) beginning with a pilot in four counties in the mid-1990s and followed by statewide expansion the second year. Of note, Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to implement Nurse Family Partnership as a statewide child abuse prevention initiative. A third highlight would be working with the Immunization Division in the late 1990s to implement and update school requirements for vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Varicella, and the second dose for MMR. With these changes, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to implement school entry requirements for the hepatitis A vaccine.
The most rewarding part of my work has been being part of a team of public health professionals, partner agencies and organizations that come together to plan, develop and implement programs and initiatives to improve the health of Oklahoma’s children, families and the citizens.
In your role, how do you educate people about public health?
In my role, educating people about public health occurs in a variety of ways ranging from educational flyers and conference presentations to representing the agency on various boards, councils and committees. With the Chase Morris Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, the focus was on developing educational information for student athletes, parents, and coaches. With implementation of the medical marijuana program, my focus was on developing educational flyers for pregnant women and their infants and on child safety for parents and grandparents. In working with a graduate student, the focus was developing a website about lead in water and an educational flyer for pregnant women about lead in water.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Recognizing the role that social determinants of health have on health outcomes, I believe one of the more difficult challenges for me and public health to improving Oklahoma’s public health outcomes and rankings lies in developing and implementing strategies to address the social determinants of health.
What is the most rewarding experience you have had in public health?
One of the most rewarding experiences of my career has been the opportunity to work with the team responsible for development of the SoonerStart early intervention program. Efforts began in 1996 for Oklahoma’s state plan to provide family-centered early intervention services to infants and toddlers from birth to 3 years of age with a developmental delay or an established risk for delay through a multi-agency collaboration. The result was SoonerStart, a collaborative state agency service delivery model, with the Oklahoma State Department of Education as the lead agency and OSDH as the primary provider of early intervention services to infants and children. Over the years, I never cease to be amazed at how appreciative families are of the services provided through SoonerStart.