FILE - PA Dr. Rachel Levine 7-28-2020

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine addresses the media on July 28, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

(The Center Square) – President-elect Joe Biden looked no further than Pennsylvania when selecting his administration’s next assistant secretary of health.

He tapped state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine for the role over the weekend, describing her as a “historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic – no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability – and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” he said in a news release.

Levine became the first transgender woman appointed to a Pennsylvania cabinet position in 2015 after serving as a leading pediatric physician at Penn State Hershey Medical Center for more than 20 years. The Massachusetts native graduated from both Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine before completing a fellowship at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1993. 

"It has truly been an honor to serve the people of Pennsylvania under the leadership of Governor Tom Wolf," Levine said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "He is a tremendous leader with an incredible vision for Pennsylvania, and it has been a highlight of my career to serve in his administration."

The announcement means Levine stands to be the first openly transgender public official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he "couldn't be prouder" of Levine's nomination. He noted her key role in launching the state's medical marijuana program, raising the profile of the ongoing opioid crisis, promoting the need for adequate medical care and access for the LGTB community and, most recently, leading the state through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Her work for our commonwealth has been transformational and I appreciate it more than I can say," he said. "I and the people of Pennsylvania owe her a debt of gratitude for her leadership, strength and dedication to protecting every person’s health amid unprecedented circumstances – and, at times, amid hateful distractions. Dr. Levine is both competent and compassionate, and never lets the anger or fear of others sway her from her goals."

Levine herself said she's proud of the work she's done to advance those issues in the state. 

"Since I began state service in 2015, I have been laser focused on building a healthy Pennsylvania for all and I am proud of the work we have done at the Department of Health during my tenure," she said. "I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, as part of the Biden Administration if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed to this position.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.