April 20, 2015 — Baligh Yehia, M.D. ’06, has always gravitated toward science, discovery and action. Early on, the medical profession intrigued him as one that held endless possibilities to make a difference in the world. Clinical care, health system redesign, patient advocacy — in just nine years, Yehia has managed to impact each, serving as a leader at the highest levels of government, academics and nonprofits.
Now in his first year of a political appointment as the Senior Advisor on Health to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he shapes policies for the largest integrated health care system in the country. Yehia closely collaborates with the White House, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, and other stakeholders on health issues related to veterans and their families.
“It’s really an honor to serve veterans,” Yehia said, “and to contribute to the future of American medicine by improving health systems to better deliver patient-centered care — care that is both of high quality and optimizes the patient experience.”
Patient advocacy has long been a driving force behind Yehia’s work, which is dedicated to improving care quality, promoting health equity and designing smarter health systems. Since his residency, he has largely focused on infectious diseases and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health.
“During residency, I cared for many people who were newly diagnosed with HIV infection,” Yehia said. “I was drawn to not only how HIV affects the body clinically, but also how it impacts people’s experiences and their interactions with others. There are few diseases that have made such an impact on the fabric of American society.”
Prior to his residency in internal medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, he attended the University of Florida, receiving his undergraduate and medical degrees as part of the Junior Honors Medical Program. Following residency, he completed a fellowship in infectious diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Yehia also holds a master of science in health policy research from the University of Pennsylvania and a master of public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. In 2013, he was appointed assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and founding director of the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health, where he additionally contributes as a senior fellow at the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives and at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.
Yehia is the immediate past chair of the American Medical Association (AMA) LGBT Advisory Committee, and previously served on the American College of Physicians Board of Regents. He has been nationally recognized for his work and leadership in HIV health services research. In 2013, he received the American Society of Microbiology Young Investigator HIV Award, and he was most recently presented the UF College of Medicine Outstanding Young Alumnus Award.
“The Outstanding Alumnus Award means a lot because it’s coming from my alma mater,” Yehia said. “UF played a critical role in who I am today. It’s really an honor to be recognized.”
In reflecting back on his time at the College of Medicine, he recalls a supportive environment in which he was able to explore his interests alongside invested teachers. Among those mentors are Robert Watson, M.D. ’69, former senior associate dean for educational affairs, and Gerold Schiebler, M.D., an emeritus faculty member in the department of pediatrics who Yehia described as “a pioneer in advocacy who inspired me in many ways.”
Between his dynamic involvement in policy, care and public health, Yehia stays active with CrossFit Inc., as well as spends time with his family and pet poodle, Jasper. He enjoys traveling and the arts. As for the future, he hopes to continue caring for patients in a clinical setting while crafting solutions that improve care and the patient experience on a larger scale.
“Clinical care and health policy are two sides of the same coin, each one influencing the other,” Yehia said. “I envision myself working with others to drive innovations in health and health delivery.”