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Meet Penn Medicine’s New Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP, an accomplished researcher and a respected women’s health leader, was recently appointed chair of Penn Medicine's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Howell's previous appointment was as a professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a public policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School.

We talked with Dr. Howell about her research, narrowing disparities in health care, and what she’s most looking forward to in her new role.

Q and A with Dr. Elizabeth A. Howell

Why did you choose to come to Penn Medicine? 

I chose Penn Medicine because of the wonderful opportunity to directly impact care for women and reduce health inequities.  Throughout my interview process I was struck by the collaborative culture, the commitment to excellence, and the excitement and energy around innovation in women’s health. 

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology?

A major focus of my research is on maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity and Penn Medicine has implemented some innovative care models to address specific pregnancy complications that lead to these devastating outcomes. I hope to build on this platform and partner with individuals across the Penn campus to reduce maternal mortality in Philadelphia and beyond.

Your research, aimed at closing persistent gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity among different racial and ethnic groups, has helped shape public policy. What inspired you to focus your career on improving the health of women and children?

Elizabeth Howell, MD, MPP, Penn Medicine's chair of the Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyI have had a passion for women’s health and health inequity since I was a teenager. My father was a civil rights attorney and my parents were very socially conscious. From an early age I was taught that all individuals should have an equal opportunity to flourish.

In medical school, I was enamored with the neonatal intensive care unit and the health of these very fragile infants. I learned about the significant racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes for Black infants and did my public policy thesis on infant mortality in the United States. During my clinical rotations I fell in love with Ob/Gyn and knew this was the career path for me.

During residency, I was struck by the mother-infant dyad. I realized the health of one was inextricably linked to the health of the other.  I also recognized that the health of the dyad had implications across the life course. I decided that I would focus my career on improving the health and wellness of women and infants and reducing health inequities. 

How do you see your focus on racial and ethnic inequities in maternal and child health, postpartum depression, and maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, directly affecting patients at Penn Medicine?

I hope to build on the strong foundation of research and clinical programs targeting the health and wellness of women at Penn Medicine. 

I believe we can make major contributions to improving health outcomes and narrowing disparities by implementing novel care models, partnering with communities, recognizing and addressing the role of social determinants of health, and building strong interdisciplinary research and clinical teams. I look forward to working with faculty and staff to provide the highest quality care to women.

What’s one thing, personal or professional, you’d like Penn patients to know about you?

I am energized and excited about this new phase of my career.  I spent 20 years at Mount Sinai in New York City and I hope to spend the next 20 years at Penn!

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