California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris
California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris — who brought awareness of the reverberating impacts of childhood trauma to the highest levels of state government — will be pausing her professional career to spend more time with her family, she announced Wednesday.
“I have always felt drawn to public service, so being able to serve during the greatest public health crisis in a century has been the experience of a lifetime,” Harris said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to establish the Office of the California Surgeon General and to move the needle in our priority areas of early childhood, health equity, and [Adverse Childhood Experiences] and toxic stress. It is not lost on me that our progress was made possible by all of you.”
Harris dedicated her career to learning exactly how childhood trauma and stress affect children's growth. She helped quantify the adverse childhood experiences Californians had encountered in her Center for Youth Wellness 2014 study, thus paving the way for further research on how toxic stress affects the body on a biological level and what mitigation strategies can be used to reduce stress, finding that the number one mitigation strategy is self-care.
“I’m sure you’ve heard me say — many times — that self-care isn’t selfish. They are words that I live by. So as I transition out of this role, I am going to pause my professional life while I focus on prioritizing care for myself and my family,” she said.
In her time as California’s first surgeon general, Harris' office created the ACEs Aware statewide initiative that has trained physicians to screen for ACEs
, provided guidance on how to mitigate toxic stress and provided grants to cities and counties throughout the state.
Harris’ ACEs work reached Humboldt County right away, as conversations about how to reduce ACEs and toxic stress began as soon as the 2014 study was published. North Coast State Sen. Mike McGuire hosted three town hall meetings on ACEs and the last one featured Harris, who witnessed hundreds of people in attendance
from different Humboldt County organizations on the same mission to reduce childhood trauma.
First Five Humboldt Executive Director Mary Ann Hansen has followed Harris’ research and leads the county’s ACEs initiatives through First Five and working with the county to provide grants
for local organizations to implement stress-relieving programs and trauma-informed training. She has also worked with Harris and the ACEs Aware campaign to further research how to implement a network of care system for California physicians screening for ACEs.
“It’s sad to see such a dynamic ACEs leader step down, but she has been working at a crazy pace and achieved so much in a short time. I’m wishing her the best,” Hansen told the Journal
Hansen is hopeful California hasn't seen the last of Harris, her work and inspiration, adding that it was Harris’ passion and voice that helped launch a long-needed paradigm shift.
“I have mad respect for the fact that she is walking her talk regarding stress, balance and self-care,” Hansen said, adding that she understands how the toll and stress of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Harris, who is the mom of four boys — the youngest being 5 years old. “To be at such a high point of her career and to have the presence of mind to realize that she needs to turn her energy toward her own and her family’s well-being, wow! That takes bravery and a commitment to ensuring long-term positive outcomes for their whole family. … What a model she continues to be, in fostering long-term health. ”
California Surgeon General Office Chief Health Officer Devika Bhushan will serve as acting surgeon general and the office will continue to support investments in children and youth well-being, vaccine equity and early detection of ACEs and toxic stress.
“It has been an honor to work in partnership with you to launch a movement that is making such a tangible difference in the lives of Californians every day,” Harris said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Harris’ last day in office will be Feb. 11.