Letitia Dzirasa ’03, M11, biological sciences, has been appointed by Mayor Catherine Pugh to serve as Baltimore’s next health commissioner. She will be the city’s first African American woman in the role, and preside over the health department’s annual budget of $150 million and about 800 employees.
Dzirasa always knew she wanted to have a career serving others. Her new position, which she will assume March 11, will enable her to support the health and well-being of city residents on a large scale.
“We are so proud of Letitia’s new appointment,” shares Keith Harmon, director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. As an undergraduate Meyerhoff Scholar at UMBC, Dzirasa conducted public health research at Johns Hopkins University. “Even then, she was interested in work that shed light on and positively impacted the health outcomes of certain populations,” Harmon says.
Commitment to populations in need
Dzirasa’s past roles speak to her commitment to improving health through innovative solutions. She most recently served as health innovation officer at Fearless Solutions, a software company she co-founded with her husband, Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering. Fearless develops software solutions in the healthcare and government sectors that have a positive social impact. In 2016, the company created tools for Baltimore City to track health trends, discover risk factors, and overall help the health department more effectively allocate resources to work toward better health for all Baltimoreans.
Previously, Dzirasa worked as a pediatrician in Odenton, Maryland at a practice that primarily serves military families. She also served as the medical director of school-based health for the Baltimore Medical System, a non-profit that serves uninsured and underinsured patients.
Support leads to strength
Although it has been a lifetime calling, “UMBC was where I began to understand just how important it was to serve others,” Dzirasa shares. She says the late LaMont Toliver, former director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, played a significant role in strengthening her passion for this work and supported her on her journey through UMBC and beyond.
Dzirasa reflects, “To have someone who believed in me so much…was huge in pushing me to excel.”
“As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve begun to understand just how blessed I was to be afforded the opportunity to attend college and pursue my dreams,” Dzirasa says. “As I was fortunate, it is my responsibility to reach back and help others, especially those most under-resourced.”
Taking on tough challenges
As health commissioner, Dzirasa plans to focus her efforts on preventing violence (especially among youth), addressing obesity and food deserts, and tackling the opioid epidemic. She also understands that social factors play a large role in one’s health, and addressing the root causes of health challenges is critical to reducing health disparities in Baltimore.
“Her experiences have given her keen insights into the needs of individuals—including those with the least resources and the greatest needs,” says President Freeman Hrabowski. “I have known Dr. Dzirasa for almost 20 years. She is an individual of strong character, and she is deeply motivated to ensure all Baltimore residents have equitable access to care. I am delighted that she will be the city’s next health commissioner.”
Banner image: Letitia Dzirasa; photo courtesy Letitia Dzirasa.