The Lead

Wolf taps OB-GYN to serve as new Pa. Physician General

By: - March 8, 2021 1:45 pm

Dr. Denise A. Johnson was nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf Monday to serve as Physician General (Governor’s Office photo).

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that he has nominated a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist to serve as Pennsylvania’s next Physician General. 

Dr. Denise Johnson, the former chief medical officer of Meadville Medical Center, in Crawford County, and past director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape has been tapped to succeed Dr. Wendy Braund, who served as interim acting physician general following the departure of state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine for a federal health post earlier this year. Levine held formerly held both posts. 

“We thank Dr. Braund for her acting role over the past weeks; her professionalism and expertise are appreciated,” Wolf said in a statement Monday announcing the nomination. 

“We welcome Dr. Johnson to the administration and look forward to her sharing her expertise and passion for many issues affecting Pennsylvanians, demonstrated through much of her professional work and appointments,” Wolf continued.” I have every confidence in her ability to serve the commonwealth, the Department of Health, and the residents of Pennsylvania during this incredibly critical time for public health.”

If she’s confirmed by the state Senate, Johnson would advise the governor on health policy, review professional standards and practices and “coordinate educational and informational programs for the promotion of wellness, public health and related medical issues,” in her role as the state’s top physician among other responsibilities. 

Johnson spent 13 years in private practice, according to the Wolf administration, and received her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has also served on the Governor’s Commission for Women. 

Her nomination was met with kudos from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Women’s Health Caucus.

The group of legislators, mostly Democrats, advocates for a range of issues including protecting people’s access to abortion and expanding Medicaid to cover doulas, to banning the use of solitary confinement on pregnant people.

Having a Physician General with Johnson’s credentials bodes well for their policies, Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, argued.

Cephas said Johnson’s experience could help her locate “particular policies that they themselves can change and move the needle on that wouldn’t take a legislative body or legislative action.”

That’s “extremely promising,” Cephas argued, because “with challenges in this commonwealth around maternal health, it’s critical to have people at the table that can be ready on day one to get policies moving in the right direction.”

In a statement issued by Wolf’s office on Monday, Johnson said, “I am truly honored to be offered this opportunity to further contribute to the health and wellbeing of Pennsylvanians. I plan to work tirelessly for all and to devote every effort to this goal.”

Johnson will serve as acting physician general until she is confirmed by the state Senate.

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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