With more than 30 years of experience devoted to promoting health equity and social justice, both in the United States and abroad, Dr. Mary Bassett’s career has spanned academia, government, and not-for-profit work. From 2014 through summer 2018, she served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she made racial justice a priority and worked to address the structural racism at the root of the city’s persistent gaps in health between white New Yorkers and communities of color. Dr. Bassett also led the Department’s response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease and other disease outbreaks.
Early in her career, she served on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for 17 years, during which time she developed a range of AIDS prevention interventions. Building on this experience, she went on to serve as associate director of health equity at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Southern Africa Office, overseeing its Africa AIDS portfolio. After returning to the United States, she served on the faculty of Columbia University, including as associate professor of clinical epidemiology in its Mailman School of Public Health.
In 2002, Dr. Bassett was appointed deputy commissioner of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In this role, she led the division responsible for New York City’s pioneering tobacco control interventions and food policy, including the nation’s first calorie posting requirements and trans fat restrictions. Her signature program was the launch of District Public Health Offices in several neighborhoods long harmed by racial/ethnic and economic health inequities. These offices now lead targeted, multi-sectoral, multi-agency strategies to reduce excess burden of disease. From 2009 to 2014, Dr. Bassett served as program director for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s African Health Initiative and Child Well-Being Prevention Program.
Dr. Bassett’s many awards and honors include the prestigious Frank A. Calderone Prize in Public Health, a Kenneth A. Forde Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbia University, a Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health, and the National Organization for Women’s Champion of Public Health Award. She has also been elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine. For many years she served as an associate editor of the American Journal of Public Health. Her recent publications include articles in The Lancet and in the New England Journal of Medicine addressing structural racism and health inequities in the United States.
Dr. Bassett grew up in New York City. She received a BA in History and Science from Harvard University, an MD from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (serving her residency at Harlem Hospital), and an MPH from the University of Washington.