A Profile on the NYC Health Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi

Dave A. Chokshi, the 43rd Health Commissioner of New York City, faces many different responsibilities while being in charge of the City’s COVID-19 response.


NYC Health Department

Pictured here is Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi, who plays an essential role in New York City’s response to public health issues, and more specifically today, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi, appointed on August 4th, 2020 by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, made history recently by becoming New York City’s first Health Commissioner of Asian descent. He assumed his new post, previously occupied by Dr. Oxiris Barbot, during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Upon assuming his role, he was faced with many responsibilities and decisions to make regarding New York City’s response to the outbreak. Commissioner Chokshi can be seen in numerous City-sponsored videos spreading awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine and urging the public to get vaccinated. In these videos, he mentions his own family and his decision to get vaccinated in order to keep them safe.

Commissioner Chokshi was born and brought up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his father immigrated from Mumbai, India, while searching for jobs. He grew up to later attend Duke University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and continued his education while attending the University of Oxford to complete his Master’s degree. To pursue his career in medicine, more specifically Public Health, Commissioner Chokshi attended the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and completed his residency at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

He eventually made his way to New York City, further pursuing his passion for Public Health. Chokshi worked in the FEMA delegation to the City after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 along with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which he now leads. During this event, and while working during Hurricane Katrina, he realized the extent of the devastation caused by health crises on friends, families, and the people themselves. His passion for helping others prompted him to take on many of the jobs that he has had throughout his career: professor at the NYU School of Medicine, Chief Population Health Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, internist at Bellevue Hospital, and many more. These jobs eventually led him to his current post as the 43rd Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

Fortunately, I was able to conduct an interview with Commissioner Chokshi, where he explained more about his role as the Health Commissioner, and the progress he has made upon assuming his role.

What factors do you believe are most important when making decisions regarding the city’s most pressing medical needs? What sort of decisions are you required to make?

Being New York City’s doctor is a privilege that I do not take lightly, especially during this public health emergency. Decisions need to be swift, based on scientific evidence, and able to speak to the needs of New Yorkers during this challenging time. As leader of the Health Department, I am proud of the work the Department has done to keep New Yorkers healthy during this crisis. Everything from encouraging New Yorkers to get vaccinated, gathering and organizing data, helping reopen schools safely, and our usual functions, like sanitary inspections for restaurants. I like this saying about our work: public health saved your life today, even if you didn’t know it! 

We often see you on TV, Youtube, and other social media platforms in informational videos about the pandemic, urging the public to get vaccinated. How effective do you think this has been? What other initiatives do you plan on taking to raise awareness?

Clear and effective public health communication to New Yorkers has been vital in fighting this pandemic and is key to the Health Department’s goal of keeping New Yorkers healthy. This communication includes everything from ad campaigns, informational videos, social media posts, speaking engagements, as well as through the press, all in the different languages that New Yorkers speak. We also partner with community organizations, faith leaders, and local doctors and clinics — because often the messenger is as important as the message. The Health Department will strive to continue reaching New Yorkers, encouraging vaccination, and informing them of the latest developments in the pandemic.

What qualities about yourself do you think you have had to bring out more as you became the NYC Health Commissioner dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

I have found with my own patients that sharing a bit more about myself, and being vulnerable, is often a key way to build trust and rapport. I’ve tried to bring this to our public health work as well, for instance sharing the story of my own COVID-19 diagnosis to encourage people to take precautions and get vaccinated.  

How does it feel to be the first Asian American person to take on this position? In what ways do you hope this makes a difference for future generations of Asian Americans?

It is a particular honor to serve as the first NYC Health Commissioner of Asian descent. I’ve heard from neighbors and other New Yorkers how much it matters to them to see someone of my background in the role, particularly since I am a person of color. I hope that it inspires others — from all backgrounds — to consider public health or other careers in public service.

Although awareness regarding mental health has increased immensely these past few years, a lot of stigma regarding it still exists. Being the Commissioner of the department also in charge of mental hygiene, are there any messages you have for the youth regarding mental health?

The pandemic has caused tremendous trauma for and presented enormous challenges to young New Yorkers.

If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, remember that there is always help available to you. If you need to talk to someone, consider reaching out to NYC Well, which offers free support, 24/7. To get in touch, call 888-NYC-WELL, text “WELL” to 65173 or chat online at nyc.gov/nycwell

Additionally, if you know that a friend has been struggling, reach out to them and see if you can offer support. Isolation and loneliness have been major issues for many over the course of this pandemic, and it is imperative that we continue to be there for each other. Small steps are just as important as our big policies — and can make all the difference for someone who is struggling or suffering.

Clear and effective public health communication to New Yorkers has been vital in fighting this pandemic and is key to the Health Department’s goal of keeping New Yorkers healthy.