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Staff Snapshot: Dr. Anne Foster, health equity advocate, composer and filmmaker

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From a childhood in New Mexico to research in Central America and explorations of New Zealand, Antarctica and beyond, Anne Foster, M.D., has sought illuminating experiences and diverse perspectives around the globe.

These rich encounters have been the foundation for a mission-driven life, at the center of which is a commitment to global health equity. Today, she is chief clinical officer of University of California Health, where she applies her considerable knowledge and professional expertise to guide the 10th largest health care system in the country.

“Living in and serving diverse communities has allowed me to see firsthand how racism and other forms of exclusion can prevent people from achieving their full potential,” Anne says. “My life and career have been about trying to level the playing field, particularly in health care, and advocating for health care as a human right.” 

One of Anne’s primary focus areas is population health — UC’s efforts to improve the lives of Californians by meeting community health care needs. Ensuring health equity in this area is key. UC researchers create data warehouses to review patient populations and identify gaps — differences in health outcomes based on zip code, ethnicity, gender and other factors. This information can then be used to design and test interventions to address these disparities. It is challenging and nuanced work, requiring well-designed scientific analysis and an open mind.

“As an example, data have shown that African-Americans are much more likely to have less controlled high blood pressure,” Anne explains. “When we have tried interventions to address this, there has been some overall improvement, but African-Americans are still impacted at a statistically higher rate. This means that we’re missing something — perhaps the impact of the stress of racism, which we know causes physical disease. And if that’s the mitigating factor, it’s not something we can immediately solve. But we can work with state and local partners to help address it.” 

Though Anne has only been chief clinical officer since this March, she has deep roots at UC. As an undergrad, she trained as a linguist at UC Berkeley, where she specialized in Native American languages; she returned to Berkeley for her master’s degree in public health, focusing in health policy and management. Anne was energized by her fellow Berkeleyans — students, faculty and staff — for the inquisitive and challenging perspectives they brought to the table, as well as their strong ideals and advocacy. She spent time between and after her Berkeley experience at UCSF, first as an OB/GYN resident and then as a faculty member.

The high caliber and dedication of UC colleagues and staff, and the quality of clinical care and research at UC continue to inspire her. She holds a deep respect for the student body, which infuses the teaching hospitals with a continuous drive for further equity and improvement.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve UC at this critical time,” Anne says. “We are at a historic juncture — post-COVID and following a renewed dialogue about racial discrimination in this country. In my role, I am driving systemness, which is key to maximizing our performance and influence, while at the same time strengthening the exceptional work done at each individual campus.” 

“At University of California Health, our north star is health equity. We have the dedicated staff and faculty, and the scientific depth and breadth to do it well and to partner with state, national and international entities to move forward. Our work is critically impactful. What we achieve as a bellwether state and world-class institution serves as a model for the world.”

Meet Anne 

Name: Dr. Anne Foster

Job title: Chief Clinical Officer

Department/unit: University of California Health

Location/campus: Office of the President, Oakland

When did you start working for UC? March 2021

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Help UC advance health equity

Why do you love working for UC? My colleagues across the system are aligned around our mission and our vision, and we understand that we are better together. We all believe that including diverse opinions and voices at the decision-making table will lead to a better end product. We respect each other’s perspectives and are willing to do the extra work to ensure inclusion.

What’s something people don’t know about you? In my spare time, I play and compose neoclassical piano music — and I work in film. Storytelling is the oldest human experience, and it is deeply embedded in human culture. Film is such a powerful medium; it can be effective in educating people and mobilizing around social change. My current film project with my co-producer is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” It’s set in New Mexico in the 1870s when there were land grabs between Spanish and white settlers. We tackle the complicated dynamics of racism and gender discrimination during this historic time. (Hear Anne play one of her songs, accompanied by video scenery of Iceland.)

Who is one person (living or dead) with whom you’d love to have dinner, and why? George Washington Carver. I’ve had a huge admiration for him ever since I discovered him as a child, when I was 10 years old. He was an African-American scientist, born into slavery, who is known for developing over 100 uses for the peanut plant. I have always been impressed by how he navigated the difficult social circumstances of entrenched racism while contributing to the world as an accomplished scientist.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Many people have told me to pursue work that makes me happy. I’m happiest when I can live my values through my work. It’s been very important for me to serve in a way that hopefully creates impact and change in the world.

To learn more about Dr. Anne Foster’s experiences prior to UC, read her hiring announcement.

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