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March 14, 2022

Dr. Rachel Levine named as one of USA Today's Women of the Year

The 64-year-old served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health before being appointed to the Biden administration in 2021

Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine was recognized by USA Today as one of its Women of the Year, the publication announced on Sunday. 

Levine became the highest-ranking openly transgender official when she was appointed as Assistant Health Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2021. The 64-year-old health official has spent her entire professional career in medicine. 

The Harvard graduate was as an educator and licensed pediatrician at Penn State for two decades before becoming Pennsylvania's Physician General in 2015. She was then appointed as the state's Secretary of Health by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017.

She spent most of her last year in office coordinating the state's initial COVID-19 response and holding public briefings during the onset of the pandemic. 

"I really feel that everything I've ever done, whether it was in academic medicine, in education, in clinical research, seeing my patients in my role in public health, in Pennsylvania and now in my role nationally, has lead to this moment in terms of helping the nation through this greatest public health crisis that we have faced in over a hundred years,"  Levine told USA Today.

Though the position as Assistant Health Secretary at HHS has garnered her a more national profile, Levine is also the first woman to head the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps., where she leads 6,000 uniformed public health officers.  

Outside of the pandemic, another important issue for Levine is the challenge that women and girls often face around body image. She established an eating disorder program that offered multidisciplinary treatment for a range of age groups at Penn State Health's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

"We need to be welcoming and celebratory for women of all aspects, of all sizes and shapes," Levine said. She added that we need to work on changing the culture surrounding the "emphasis on thinness and appearance," both in the United States and globally. 

Levine has routinely been subject to hateful, transphobic attacks, particularly by other elected and public officials. In October, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks had his Twitter account banned for "targeted misgendering" after saying that "the title of the first female four-star officer" was taken by a man. 

"You have tremendous worth just for who you are, no matter who you love, no matter who you are, no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else, and to be, be true to that," Levine told USA Today. "And then everything else will follow." 

She said she has learned over the course of the last two years how interconnected people are in terms of public health.

"I think that it is very important for people to take into consideration all of the different factors that influence their own health, but also influence the health of their communities," she added. "The personal decisions that we make influence our families, our communities, our nation and the world." 

USA Today's Women of the Year honorees include politicians, philanthropists, CEOs, scientists, and media publishers. The listing is a continuation of the publication's 2020 "Women of the Century" project, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Other women recognized this year include Vice President Kamala Harris, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, Elle Magazine Editor-in-Chief Nina Garcia, and online Indigenous activist Cheryl Horn.