Dr. James D. Polk, a Washington C.H. native, has been named the new NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer, according to a NASA press release.
He succeeds Dr. Richard Williams who has held the position since 2001. Dr. Williams will remain at NASA for the immediate future, where his extensive experience will be used to lead an effort toward a framework on human systems integration and evaluating the needs of future technical authority.
“Rich has led the agency’s medical community since the early days of crews on the International Space Station and the final decade of the Space Shuttle Program, and we’re fortunate he’ll still be helping the agency with the initial steps on our human journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “JD’s (Polk) unique blend of proven clinical ability, medical management experience at the highest federal levels and operational space medicine expertise make him ideal to lead NASA’s healthcare system as the agency continues its mission of exploration.”
Dr. Polk, who most recently served as a flight surgeon in the Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer, brings a wealth of clinical and medical managerial experience and knowledge to his new position. Board-certified in emergency medicine and aerospace medicine, his previous NASA assignments included service at the Johnson Space Center as an operational flight surgeon and as chief of the Medical Operations Division, Human Health and Performance Directorate.
Dr. Polk also has worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, serving as principal deputy assistant secretary, Health Affairs, and established elements of the Homeland Security Health Care system. He also spent several years as dean of the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he significantly advanced student academic performance and standing at the national level.
In an email to local resident Verne Haugen, Dr. Polk wrote, “It has been an almost fairy tale career. But I have loved every portion of it equally. I have been equally happy in the surreal moments before landing at the scene of an accident in a helicopter, or helping to save Chilean miners, or treating a patient in the emergency room. Each one is a privilege and an honor to serve. I am humbled by being allowed to even be a part of each of them.
“I have been fortunate to have had good mentors and good examples to follow throughout my life, including those in WCH. I’ll continue to do my best to be the best physician I can, and to continue to teach and mentor those behind me, and to make WCH proud.”