Photo by Hannah Lynch
When Dr. Judith Monroe was appointed state health commissioner for Indiana, many told her that it would be a thankless job. Instead, she says, it became a platform for her to make significant improvements in the lives of Hoosier families.
"I found people were genuinely grateful for my efforts," Monroe says. "I think my greatest reward came from the comments and thanks from people I met around the state. Nothing is more rewarding for me than being part of a team that advances the health and safety of populations."
For her work to improve the health of Hoosiers, Purdue recognized Monroe with an honorary Doctor of Health and Human Sciences degree in May 2014.
Monroe served as health commissioner for Indiana from 2005 to 2010. Under her leadership, Indiana improved its obesity ranking from most obese in 2003 to 28th in 2009. Cigarette consumption also decreased by nearly 25 percent.
She says she first noticed the obesity problem, particularly among Indiana children, during her time as a physician and educator at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.
"I realized that these problems could not be solved one patient at a time and a public health approach was needed," Monroe says. "Then in early 2005, I received a call from then-Governor Mitch Daniels' office asking if I would consider the position of state health commissioner. Within three weeks I had left my work at St. Vincent to start a new chapter in my career."
Monroe says she is grateful for the support she received from Daniels (now Purdue University president) and
organizations across the state, including Purdue. From the beginning of her tenure as state health commissioner, Monroe partnered with Purdue faculty and staff for many different programs, including ones that aimed to improve nutrition education, physical fitness and local health department resources. She also worked closely with Purdue during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.
"Dr. Monroe's lifelong dedication to improving the health and well-being of people so beautifully exemplifies the mission of the College of Health and Human Sciences," says Christine Ladisch, HHS dean. "I cannot think of a person more worthy, and we are very proud to recognize her with an honorary doctorate."
Monroe believes she had a much more positive experience than health commissioners in other states. "It was clear that Governor Daniels' leadership and management was superior to what my fellow health officers reported in their states," she says. "I had positive relationships across the state and that made all the difference."
Monroe is now working at a national level to improve the health of American families. She is at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a deputy director of the CDC and as director of the Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support. She is focused on a systems approach to developing more effective and efficient public health practices, innovative training for the future workforce, integrating medicine and public health, and improving population health.
"My office supports all of the nation's health departments and multiple national partners who provide technical assistance to the field," she says. "When health commissioners need assistance, they know they can call on me to work across the agency to get what they need."