The Pivot with Dr. Bonzo Reddick
Dr. Bonzo Reddick addresses the root causes of health issues.
What’s your role in public health?
I’m an alumnus of the Gillings School and the district health director for the Coastal Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). I am responsible for overseeing DPH activities for eight counties in southeast Georgia, and I also serve as the chief executive officer of the boards of health for those eight counties.
Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?
As the district health director, I don’t have a specific focus. Our district has more than 30 DPH programs that cover a wide variety of issues — the investigation of infectious disease outbreaks, HIV services (through our Ryan White clinic), food service ratings for restaurants, emergency preparedness (e.g., for hurricanes), beach water testing and advisories, regulation of body art (tattoos and piercings), rabies prevention and animal bites, and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program — just to name a few.
In my academic role as a professor of community medicine at the Mercer University School of Medicine, my focus is on health equity. I have a specific interest in health care for the homeless, harm reduction, and the prevention of HIV and hepatitis C infection using population-level approaches.
What brought you to public health?
Honestly, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health did. After I completed my family medicine residency, I began taking classes part-time as a way to improve my understanding of epidemiology and enhance my critical appraisal of scientific literature. I took an elective on health disparities with Dr. Vijaya Hogan and I was hooked. I ended up getting UNC’s Interdisciplinary Certificate in Health Disparities and then graduating with a Master of Public Health degree in 2014.
Since then, I’ve been steadily gravitating closer to public health. In all my clinical experiences after public health school, I was always thinking about how to address the underlying issues or fix the systemic causes that had created the health problems in question. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was invited to become a member of the Health Equity Council for the Georgia DPH, and this exposed me to the true range of everything that public health covers.
When our state’s commissioner called to tell me that our district health director was retiring and that I should apply for the job, it was a no-brainer.
Can you describe a time when you have pivoted in your public health career?
As I mentioned, the pandemic was a huge moment for my full pivot toward public health. The clinic that I was working for — JC Lewis Primary Health Care Center — is a federally designated Healthcare for the Homeless site. We were tasked with providing testing services, vaccination and personal protective equipment for people experiencing homelessness.
That was when I saw first-hand how team-based, interdisciplinary work can address not just medical issues, but also the social determinants of health. Through collaborating with community members, social workers, community advocates and the local homeless authority, I experienced some of the most meaningful work of my life. I still loved caring for individual patients, but I felt that I could have a larger impact by addressing the root causes of health issues.
Who are you when you’re at home?
I’m a husband and a father of three. I run, on average, 25-30 miles a week, and I’ve been thrilled that my other four family members have all fallen in love with running since the beginning of the pandemic.
I love being outdoors — especially running with my kids on the weekends — and I also love doing triathlons. I’ve completed three Half Ironman triathlons (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run), and I hope to complete a Full Ironman triathlon (double those distances) before I turn 50. That means I have less than four years to go!