California gets its first ever surgeon general

California's first-ever Surgeon General has launched a listening tour that will take her around the state to hear about people's hopes for the new position and the state's new commitment to improving Californians' health. 

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is a pediatrician with degrees from U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis Medical School, and Harvard University. She says, as the daughter of a biochemist and a nurse, she knew what her dream job was at an early age.

"I've wanted to be a pediatrician since I was four-years-old," she said laughing, "Geeking out on science and being able to care for folks is just joyful. I think it's probably in my DNA." 

What she never dreamed, though, was that she'd receive a sudden offer to become California's first surgeon general, sworn in this year by Governor Gavin Newsom.

She hopes to build on her work on children's health that started in San Francisco back in 2007, when she helped found California Pacific Medical Center's Bayview Child Health Center and, three years later, the Center For Youth Wellness,

She noticed at that time, a strong link between children's physical health problems and emotional stress from what's called Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs.

"There was someone in the family who was struggling with addiction, or mental health issues, or that the child was witnessing violence either at home or in the community," she said.

That launched more than a decade of advocacy, speaking nationwide to other doctors and politicians, including trips to the White House and Capitol Hill. She says the nation needs to help children early, treating trauma and stress before long-term health problems set in.

She was in Sacramento to start a statewide listening tour this month.

"My immediate priorities as Surgeon General will be addressing ACEs and toxic stress, healthy beginnings in early childhood, and health equity," said Dr. Burke Harris.

She says she will focus on those core issues, with the aim of achieving measurable improvements for California's children. 

"Helping families and children and parents and communities raise healthy children, right?" she said of her goals, "Giving them the tools so that they can be empowered to do it for themselves and to know what's important to be able to do that. 

Dr. Burke Harris plans to continue her Surgeon General listening tour in Alameda County, Butte County, Fresno County, Kern County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County.