University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Champion for child health Ben Danielson to be 2018 SPH graduation speaker

Champion for child health Ben Danielson to be 2018 SPH graduation speaker

04/02/2018
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Dr. Ben Danielson, a distinguished pediatrician who heads the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle’s Central District, will speak at the UW School of Public Health’s graduation celebration on June 10.

“We’re excited to have Ben Danielson as our graduation speaker as he is an inspiring and articulate force for children’s health and social justice in our community,” says Joel Kaufman, interim dean at the School of Public Health. “He’s not only a pediatrician dedicated to making a difference in kids’ lives, but works at addressing the underlying social determinants of health disparities.”

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Ben Danielson

For nearly two decades, Danielson has poured his passion into improving the health of low-income children and their families. A child of the foster care system, who says he was rescued and raised by a single mom, Danielson knows that the roots of health extend far beyond the reach of the clinic walls and into the socioeconomic situations of his young patients.

“It’s an incredible honor to have even the slightest bit of shared experience with the families that you get to serve,” Danielson said of his patients in a KING 5 interview. “If you look at this community and the children who live in it, the things that you do to support their futures are the kinds of things that are going to pay back the whole community. A healthier, whole community is healthier for everybody.”

Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic is a community clinic of Seattle Children’s. Many of the patients that walk through the front doors come from economically disadvantaged, minority families.

A 1992 graduate of the UW School of Medicine, Danielson completed his residency in pediatrics at Seattle Children’s and began working for the clinic in 1999. He has been named among Seattle’s top doctors every year for the past five years. He is also a clinical professor of pediatrics at the UW.

Danielson tells SPH he hopes to impress upon future public health leaders their value in the world today.

“In my view, our nation especially, our world more generally and our local region most specifically, are confronting critical challenges,” he says. “Important, life- and world-altering choices are being contemplated all around us, and the reverberating impact of these choices will echo for a long time.”

According to Danielson, a “public health perspective” is a critical, yet underutilized, lens in these decision-making circles. For example, Danielson is currently advising on what the future of youth detention should look like in Seattle and King County, and among his recommendations is the need to shift the system from a criminal justice-oriented approach to one grounded in public health. That is, that “solutions are rooted in the broad upstream and community-wide supports that impact a young person starting in their earliest days.”

This requires new ways of collaboration, communication and shared goals. Most critically, seeing youth detention through this lens reveals the underlying truth that all young people have incredible capacity for restorative healing.

“Suddenly, a somewhat heartbreaking conversation about youth ‘offenders’ becomes a hopeful conversation about our shared fabric of accountability, and the incredible potential for redemption that all of us are due,” Danielson says. “That’s the remarkable power of the public health perspective.”

The need for leaders with a public health perspective doesn’t end there. This lens is key when creating policies and programming for transportation, housing, the environment, international relations and more. “It’s time for our future public health leaders to lace up those shoes and get into the game,” he says.

Though most of his clinic work involves the African-American community, Danielson’s advocacy on behalf of all vulnerable people has benefited thousands throughout King County. In 2008, he helped found the Washington Medical-Legal Partnership, which trains doctors to recognize when forces outside the examination room contribute to health problems. He also supports various organizations and sits on a number of boards, including Equal Start Community Coalition, Health Coalition for Children and Youth, Group Health Community Foundation, Children’s Alliance Public Policy Council, United Way of King County, the Washington State Health Exchange Board, and others.

Students, staff, faculty, alumni and the public can catch Danielson’s speech at the UW School of Public Health’s graduation celebration on Sunday, June 10, at 11 a.m. at the Alaska Airlines Arena (Hec Edmundson Pavilion). A reception will follow.