Dara Kass, MD, has always been a change agent. Early in her career, she became a passionate advocate for women in emergency medicine and started FemInEM, a membership organization that provides resources and community to support women working in emergency medicine. She worked clinically and taught residents and medical students while conducting research on gender equity issues. Her instinct to advocate for the most vulnerable drew her into advocacy work, and she soon realized that emergency physicians have the training and skills to make an impact on access to care beyond the emergency department (ED).
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 41 – No 12 – December 2022
That same desire to make things better led to her current role as Region 2 director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an area that includes New York, New Jersey, U.S. territories in the Caribbean, and several federally recognized Tribal Nations. The 10 HHS regional directors are politically appointed by the Presidential administration to liaise with state and local leaders and elected officials to make sure the new federal policies and procedures are communicated to stakeholders in a way that is reflective of their needs.
Getting appointed to the role was a long process. Dr. Kass submitted a general application through the transitions website for the Biden administration and looked through the “United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions,” commonly known as the Plum Book, a meaty document published online after each presidential election. Although there is no direct application process for political appointments, it was helpful for her to parse the over 4,000 federal positions in the executive branches of the Federal Government to understand which role might fit her qualifications.
Dr. Kass was proactive, utilizing the personal connections she built through her advocacy efforts to personally express her interest in available roles. She also collected numerous letters of support from elected officials and community leaders to support her application. Dr. Kass received her first call about the job in February 2021 and went through a comprehensive interview process, eventually getting the job in November of that same year.
In her role, Dr. Kass has a seat at the table on critical public health conversations happening at the highest level–the implementation of the 9-8-8 national suicide hotline, expanding care for substance and opioid abuse, lessons learned from COVID and monkeypox vaccination programs—and she said her experience in emergency medicine allows her to, “really lean into a lot of my lived experiences and come up-to-date quickly.”