• County Health Role Put Family Physician on Leadership Path

    Feb. 28, 2023, David Mitchell — Delicia Pruitt, M.D., M.P.H., enjoyed many different aspects of health care as a medical student, particularly obstetrics and psychiatry. Ultimately, she chose neither of those specialties.

    “I remember telling myself, ‘If I went into family medicine, I could specialize in whatever I wanted to in the future,’” said Pruitt, medical director of the Saginaw County Health Department and an associate professor of family medicine at Central Michigan University College of Medicine. “I didn’t have to pigeonhole myself into any one particular thing. If you look at my path, I’ve been free to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, make changes when I wanted to and still be in family medicine.”

    Pruitt’s path included owning a family medicine practice with her father, Eugene Seals, M.D., for eight years and later serving as a family medicine residency program director for four years.

    “I had a chance to take the information that I gained from owning my own practice and share that with young people,” said Pruitt, who also served as medical director of a hospice care center for three years. “It was rewarding. I felt a little sad for moving on, but at the same time I felt like it was time to do something else.”

    Pruitt, who is still core faculty at the Central Michigan residency program, told her parents as a child that she wanted to be U.S. surgeon general someday. The dream to work in public health was still alive when opportunity knocked.

    When the Saginaw County Health Department had an opening for a medical director, Central Michigan’s medical school and clinics were involved in finding a replacement.

    “They asked me, ‘Do you know anyone who wants to have a degree in public health and is interested in becoming a medical director of a health department?’ I said, ‘Hey, that’s me. I always wanted to do this,’” Pruitt said.

    The job included going back to school at age 45 while juggling responsibilities to the residency program and her family. She didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Her father, a former science teacher, had been 38 with a wife and eight kids when he went to medical school.

    “I thought, ‘If my dad can go to medical school later in life and get his degree, surely I can get my M.P.H. with four kids and a husband,’” she said. “’I can do this.’”

    Pruitt became her county’s medical director in January 2020, just in time for a global pandemic. She brought together the leadership of the county’s hospitals and health systems to plan and direct COVID-19 testing, vaccination efforts, standards of care and educational campaigns.

    “We made sure that there was equal distribution of vaccines and testing across our county,” said Pruitt, whose task force also established recommendations related to masking.

    In a year and a half, Pruitt and health officer Christina Harrington, M.P.H., hosted 65 Facebook Live events, sharing local COVID-19 transmission data and medical information and guidance.

    Pruitt also made an impact at the state level after being appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to serve on the Protect Michigan Commission, which developed an outreach strategy and educated communities about the effectiveness of COVID vaccines. 

    She also was appointed by Whitmer to the Governor’s Food Security Council, which issued a report last year with 11 recommendations aimed at ensuring that Michigan families have access to affordable, nutritious food. It was estimated that nearly 2 million Michiganders experienced food insecurity at the beginning of the pandemic, including more than half a million children. The council brought together stakeholders from government, business, health, agriculture and nonprofit sectors to address the problem.

    Pruitt said the work was an eye-opening experience.

    “You have one piece of the puzzle,” said Pruitt, a member of the Michigan AFP Board of Directors. “In order to fix something, you have to bring in others to get the whole picture and come up with a solution. I had thought of food insecurity from a doctor’s perspective. When somebody comes into my office, I’m thinking about getting a social worker to help the food insecure person get food. And then, how can I bill food security in my paperwork? But people from food pantries, schools and the USDA think totally differently about food insecurity. There’s broader lens that you have to look at when you deal with a complex issue.”

    Plenty of other complex problems await at the county level, and Pruitt is working on initiatives related to issues like obesity.

    “We have focus groups that are starting soon,” she said, “so we can figure out the choices that people are making about nutrition, food, access and obesity.”

    Pruitt will bring her experience and leadership to Kansas City, Mo., in May for the AAFP’s National Conference of Constituency Leaders. The conference, a leadership development event for women, minorities, new physicians, international medical graduates, and LBGTQ+ physicians and physician allies, is open for registration. Pruitt was elected co-convener of the minority constituency last year during her first NCCL. (She also will serve as a member constituency delegate to the AAFP Congress of Delegates Oct. 25-27 in Chicago.)

    “People at NCCL do a good job of encouraging others to get involved,” she said. “I was told, ‘Just because you’re new doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t become a leader.’ I felt like it gave me an opportunity to have a voice in the AAFP that I didn’t know I could have. Here I am, my first time at the event, and all of a sudden, I’m part of it. How cool is that?

    “I worked on a resolution for women and maternal mortality that was adopted. It was incredible. I was so impressed by the whole experience. Now I get to lead as co-convener of the minority group. I’m really excited about that and to encourage others.”

    NCCL is part of the AAFP Leadership Conference, which is scheduled for May 9-11 and also includes the Annual Chapter Leader Forum and the State Legislative Conference.