Pioneering physician leader recognized for addressing the health harms of mass incarceration
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is pleased to announce that the 2023 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award is presented to Dr. Shira Shavit, a transformational leader who has spent decades redefining national policy around a critical issue of our time — mass incarceration and its health harms.
Dr. Shavit is Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, a compassionate physician at Southeast Health Center, and the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Transitions Clinic Network (TCN).
“For decades, Dr. Shira Shavit has worked to remedy the health harms of mass incarceration. Her commitment to health equity and justice has made an incredible difference to tens of thousands of people and changed our nation’s systemic response to mass incarceration,” said Dr. Kathleen Reeves, President and CEO of the Gold Foundation. “We are privileged to be honoring Dr. Shavit and recognizing her profound, far-reaching impact.”
The Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Award for Humanism in Healthcare honors a woman who exemplifies humanism and has advanced, through her scholarship, advocacy, leadership, or work, the well-being of underserved or at-risk populations in the healthcare arena. Through this annual award, the Gold Foundation honors the spirit of Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz, who was inspired by her son to create change for children with disabilities. This honor was established in 2014 through a generous gift from Dr. Ronald Arky, Daniel D. Federman Professor of Medicine and Medical Education at the Harvard Medical School.
Like Ms. Hurwitz, Dr. Shavit also went through a family experience that drove her desire to help those who might often be overlooked. “Coincidentally, I was inspired by my personal experiences with my sister who had developmental disabilities to become a physician and advocate for health justice,” said Dr. Shavit.
To truly understand Dr. Shavit’s influence, the scope of mass incarceration in America must be considered. This year, the United States marked its fiftieth anniversary of the start of mass incarceration. This expansive system created the foundation for punitive policies that have resulted in vast social and health harm for the nearly 80 million Americans possessing a criminal record. Incarceration has been shown to lead to higher rates of chronic health conditions and sky-high rates of morbidity and mortality compared to the general population. Additionally, jails and prisons have become the largest mental health providers nationwide.
Since her formative years in medical school, Dr. Shavit has devoted herself to the cause of advocating for underserved populations in our carceral systems, especially the plight of women. Her first job was offering reproductive healthcare to incarcerated and pregnant women at a county jail in California. It was in that jail that Dr. Shavit witnessed the full-scale injustices that women faced at the hands of the criminal justice and healthcare systems.
When Dr. Shavit joined the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2005 as faculty, she became part of the leadership team for the Correctional Medicine Consultation Network. The California State Prison system had been placed under federal receivership for unconstitutionally poor care, but Dr. Shavit’s leadership and ability to see possibility even in the starkest of circumstances proved incredibly influential. When Dr. Shavit joined the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2005 as faculty, she became part of the leadership team for the Correctional Medicine Consultation Network. The California State Prison system had been placed under federal receivership for unconstitutionally poor care, but Dr. Shavit’s leadership and ability to see possibility even in the starkest of circumstances proved incredibly influential. She recruited clinicians and trained students and residents in the prison to help create a pipeline of high-quality clinicians in the system. She also employed new strategies to conduct quality improvement projects behind bars and supported health system leaders in improving care for hundreds of thousands of incarcerated patients. Dr. Shavit was part of a team that ensured the negligence of the correctional health system was accounted for and quantified.
Dr. Shavit was part of a team that ensured the negligence of the correctional health system was accounted for and quantified.
In addition to her work at UCSF, Dr. Shavit has spent the past decade leading the TCN and advocating for incarcerated individuals and their families. She spearheaded the transformation of over 48 primary care systems in 14 states and Puerto Rico. In addition, she guided TCN in cutting healthcare and criminal legal costs and ensuring the healthy, sustained integration of individuals returning home from incarceration. As a result, over 15,000 individuals have received health services at a TCN program site upon returning from incarceration. In addition, hundreds of individuals with histories of incarceration, who historically have been systematically excluded from healthcare careers because of their criminal records, have been trained and/or employed as community health workers within primary care health systems in the TCN.
Dr. Shavit received her B.S. from Washington University, St. Louis, and her M.D. from Rush Medical College in Chicago, and she completed her residency training at the University of California, San Francisco. She has received several honors for her commitment to health equity and racial justice, including the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award (2010) and a California Health Care Foundation Health Care Leadership Fellowship (2019), and she was recently recognized with a University of California, San Francisco Chancellor’s Award for Public Service (2022).
For Dr. Shavit, the Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award is especially significant. “I am honored and moved to receive this award acknowledging my career as an advocate, leader, and humanitarian. As a woman leader in medicine, my focus is always on the systems of care and well-being of others, so it is meaningful when I’m recognized for my often unseen efforts,” she said.
The admiration for Dr. Shavit and her work is felt by all whose lives she affects, including her colleagues.
In the nomination of Dr. Shavit, Yale University Professor of Medicine and Public Health Dr. Emily Wang included a testimonial from Dr. Lisa Puglisi, who is Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine and directs a Transitions Clinic Network program in Connecticut. “Shira is an incredible mentor because she is steadfast and unflappable, which I most appreciate when I hit roadblocks. At the times, when I feel that my advocacy work is stalled, she reminds me that the road toward justice is long and winding and always requires deep collaboration,” wrote Dr. Puglisi. “She is measured, thoughtful, creative, and expert at drawing on her past experience to apply it in diverse situations. Shira has provided guidance on our program development in Connecticut over the past 10 years that has proven invaluable, as we are finally starting to see some of the change we have been working for!”