Lauren Powell

Director, Office of Health Equity

Virginia Department of Health

Dr. Lauren Powell is the youngest professional, and the first with a PhD, to serve as Director of Health Equity for Virginia, leading statewide strategic plans and initiatives toward achieving health equity for Virginia’s 8.4 million residents.

Lauren works tirelessly to achieve health equity for Virginia and advocates on behalf of economically disinvested, forgotten communities and leads policy analyses, state-wide programing efforts, and funding initiatives to address barriers to access to care and the social determinants of health. One of the most important facets of the position lies in the challenge of helping policymakers and leaders understand the connection between systemic, systematic, and generational racism and other forms of oppression, to health inequities. Leading these conversations links discrimination of all forms, particularly racism, and the health of under-resourced populations clear and undeniable.

Lauren earned a Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Clinical and Population Health Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

BOLD SOLUTION: During her time in graduate school, Lauren created “Barbershop Conversations: Convene, Converse, Commit,” which trained health professionals on cultural humility and the art of conversation to address challenges with cultural sensitivity in communication between men of color and health care providers. During one month, more than 30 healthcare professionals completed the cultural humility training and trained volunteers to do health screenings. For some men, the clinic within the barbershop was their first adult encounter with a doctor. The cultural humility training has become a mandatory requirement for volunteers and is now sustained by community health workers who facilitate the training. Lauren also recently led public health community engagement activation at Pharrell’s premiere "Something in the Watermusic festival in Virginia Beach, where she and her team engaged festival attendees on community health and distributed 10,000 condoms.
I have leveraged my position to guide deep and meaningful conversations around health outcomes driven by racism, discrimination, and other social inequities among department staff, even while others in leadership have remained silent on this topic. In the days following national headline-making political scandals involving blackface and other explicitly racist costumes dawned by the state's highest ranking leaders, my leadership approach to advancing equity has been tested, but remains resilient.