Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc

Portrait of Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc

Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc


Internal Medicine
Population Health

At the Dell Medical School, Karen DeSalvo serves as a professor in the Division of Primary Care and Value-Based Health, with a primary appointment in the Department of Internal Medicine and secondary appointment in the Department of Population Health. She works on a range of projects that involve different parts of the medical school and that take advantage of the cutting-edge work happening on the University of Texas campus in the areas of community health, medical care and research related to the social determinants of health. She looks for ways to leverage technology and digital health in traditional public health programs and strategies — both to advance health beyond the traditional medical model and to address issues where people live, learn, work and play.

Dr. DeSalvo most recently served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In that role, she oversaw 12 core public health offices and 10 regional health offices across the nation, and the Office of the Surgeon General. Under Dr. DeSalvo’s leadership as Delivery System Reform strategy co-lead, HHS set and met historic goals in payment reform, supported transformed models of care delivery including in primary care, and changed the approach to information distribution in the health system.  

From 2014 to 2016 DeSalvo served as the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, a role in which she was responsible for setting national strategy and policy on health IT and focused interoperability in the health setting.  She marshaled public and private stakeholders to create and execute on a revised national strategy for health IT that shifts focus from electronic health records to standardized data, freed through requiring published APIs (application programmable interfaces) and supports a culture and business environment for information flow to support better health for individuals and communities.  

Dr. DeSalvo transformed the outmoded health department while serving as New Orleans Health Commissioner. The department has since achieved national accreditation and recognition, restored health care to devastated areas of the city, and led the establishment of a public hospital. Following Hurricane Katrina, she was a community leader in building an innovative and award-winning model of neighborhood-based community health services for low-income, uninsured and other vulnerable people in the New Orleans area.

Dr. DeSalvo is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.  She was previously professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at the Tulane School of Medicine.  Her accomplishments have earned her numerous leadership awards and accolades, including the “Surgeon General’s Medallion”, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Public Health Service, for actions of exceptional achievement for the cause of public health and medicine. Dr. DeSalvo earned her Medical Doctorate and Master’s in Public Health from Tulane University, and Master's in Clinical Epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health.  She has an honorary doctorate from her alma mater Suffolk University.