Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun took the top job at the Detroit Health Department a little over a month ago, and has already launched two public health initiatives with others in the works.
SisterFriends, announced by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his State of the City address, is an attempt to combat preterm births and infant mortality by matching young moms with volunteer mentors. The other initiative, Lead Safe Detroit, launched earlier this month, created a central clearinghouse for all of the city’s lead-related activities at detroitmi.gov/leadsafedetroit.
Joining the city’s Health Department as medical director last July was a dream come true for Khaldun, 36. She became Detroit’s top doctor on Feb. 17, when she was named executive director and health officer.
“The reason I wanted to be a doctor was to be right here, where I am right now,” Khadun said in a recent interview. “I grew up in Ann Arbor, but my parents actually went to Pershing High School. And then my grandparents, cousins and aunts live in the city, so I was frequently here, at least several times a month, in the city riding my bike.”
Family members say Khaldun never believed in half-measures. She pours herself into every undertaking. After graduating from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in 1998, she earned a bachelor of science degree in biology at University of Michigan. She attended the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her medical degree in 2006.
“She was a standout with track, she was an overachiever with academics. Anything that involves school or sports she was going to do something big with it,” her older sister, Kristen Slaughter, 41, said of Khaldun’s high school years.
Khaldun, a board certified emergency physician who practices part time at Henry Ford Health System, completed her emergency medicine residency at Kings County Hospital Center/SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, New York, where she was also a chief resident. She also earned a master’s degree in public health policy at George Washington University.
She returned to Michigan from Maryland, where she was chief medical officer for the Baltimore City Health Department, bringing back valuable lessons.
“In Baltimore, I found out the people who were working in the clinics were upset because they weren’t able to get the people who cleaned to do a good job,” she recalled. “I brought in the regional director of the cleaning company and walked them around, flipped up the toilet seats, ran my finger down a wall, to show what was happening.
“That person quit two weeks later, but you know, those bathrooms and the clinics were cleaner than they were in decades,” she added. “Those aren’t things (the public will) hear about, but those are things you can only do as a leader if you’re listening. All people should feel that they’re important, that we value their business. That’s the level of respect that everyone deserves.”
Dr. Kyle Fischer, an emergency physician at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland, participated in a fellowship program that Khaldun directed at the University of Maryland’s Department of Emergency of Medicine. The two also worked together as emergency physicians at Prince George’s.
“I got to see her both as a boss and as a co-worker, and she’s pretty great at it on both ends,” Fischer said. “She knows how to get things done but at the same time is very approachable and knows how to get along with people.”
Khaldun believes community involvement is the key to improving public health in Detroit. That focus is reflected in the newly launched SisterFriends. The program brings young women together with more experienced mothers to help guide them through pregnancy and their child’s first year.
“The community is the expert when it comes to what the community needs,” Khaldun said.
“We don’t want to sit up with our degrees and titles and make assumptions about what the community needs that might by be true. The greatest asset of Detroit is its residents. It’s the people who, like my family, have been here for generations.”
Dr. Joneigh Slaughter Khaldun
Title: Executive director and health officer, Detroit Health Department
Hometown: Ann Arbor
Education: Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, 1998; Bachelor of Science in biology, University of Michigan, 2002; Medical Degree, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2006; resident/chief resident, Kings County Hospital Center/SUNY Downstate Medical Center, completed in 2010; Master’s of Public Health degree, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, 2013.
Career: Joined the Detroit Health Department as medical director in July 2016, and was named executive director and health officer in January. A board certified emergency physician, practiced part time at Henry Ford Health System. Former chief medical officer and assistant commissioner for clinical services, Baltimore City Health Department.
Family: Married to Furqan D. Khaldun since 2005; the couple have three children ages 4,7 and 10.