Dr. Harry Chen selected for 2017 Charles Preuss Distinguished Alumnus Award

Dr. Harry ChenApril 25, 2017

Harry Chen, M.D. '79 R '83, entered public health after 30 years in emergency medicine to answer the question: How can healthy decisions become the default or easy decision?

Dr. Chen served three terms in Vermont's legislature, where he was a leader in Vermont's health care reform efforts. 

In 2011, the governor appointed him Commissioner of Health. Dr. Chen oversaw the response to Vermont's opioid crisis, which saw a 38 percent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2015 and 2016. 

Under his leadership, a robust statewide treatment system was created to address the state's epidemic. He also led Vermont's "3-4-50" initiative, which seeks to curb smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, the underlying causes of more than half the deaths in Vermont.

The role of public health, Dr. Chen found, is to "create conditions in which people can be healthy." 

Dr. Harry Chen"When we have clean indoor air laws, for example, fewer people smoke, period," Dr. Chen said.

Dr. Chen stepped down as commissioner in March. In July, he and his wife will travel to Africa, where he will train medical personnel with the Peace Corps.

Learn about the Preuss award

Written by Amanda Waldroupe for Bridges magazine.