Oxiris Barbot


Oxiris Barbot is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

courtesy of New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

As New York City faced its worst measles outbreak in decades—654 cases between October 2018 and August 2019—Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, saw an opportunity to spread the message that vaccines are a safe and effective way to help ensure public health.

“Having to fight the anti-vaccination community gave me a platform I don’t think I could have [otherwise] gotten,” says Barbot NJMS’91, “because we as a country have taken vaccinations for granted.”

Barbot’s work addressed urban health care long before she became New York City’s first Latina health commissioner last year. She has carried her education at New Jersey Medical School and experience serving Newark communities with her throughout her career. “The privilege of being able to take care of people in their most vulnerable times is very humanizing,” she says, “and reminds us of why we do what we do.”

As commissioner, Barbot is targeting racial inequalities in health care, specifically among the city’s youngest residents. Although New York City is reporting its lowest infant mortality rate in decades, African-American babies are three times as likely as white babies to die in their first year of life. 

Barbot wants to tackle another emerging challenge: early childhood trauma. The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences study found a strong correlation between childhood trauma and adverse outcomes in adults. The health care system, she says, needs to better support and nurture—and not re-traumatize—these children.

“It’s exciting to be able to direct resources to communities that have been historically disinvested in,” Barbot says. “Never in a million years would I have guessed that a girl from the projects in the South Bronx would get to be in this position.”