Michigan has a new top doctor. Here’s who she is and what she has done to get here.
LANSING, Mich.—There’s a new expert leading Michigan in our fight against COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian has been named Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive, replacing Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who is leaving her position for a job outside the state level.
Bagdasarian said there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to the pandemic, adding that she is honored to have the new role.
“I know we have a committed, resolute, and untiring team that cares deeply about public health and moving past this current crisis,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to collaborating with MDHHS and the Governor’s office and other state departments to address this challenge and any others that may present in the future.”
But who is Bagdasarian and how did she get to this new role? Here are six things you should know about Michigan’s newest top doc.
She Has a Background in Infectious Diseases
When it comes to battling a virus, Bagdasarian seems like the right person for the job. For about the last year, Bagdasarian has been working with the state as a senior public health physician with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, overseeing the COVID-19 testing strategy for the state and bringing rapid testing technologies to vulnerable populations around Michigan.
In medical school, Bagdasarian’s residency focused on internal medicine and infectious diseases fellowship at the University of Michigan, where she’d later earn a master’s degree in hospital and molecular epidemiology.
She’s board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in both internal medicine and infectious diseases.
She Consulted for the World Health Organization
Taking over as Michigan’s top doctor in the state’s continued efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus won’t be Bagdasarian’s first dance with COVID-19.
Bagdasarian began consulting with the World Health Organization (WHO) in early 2020, providing guidance on how to prepare for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Her main guidance dealt with international outbreak prevention and control.
WHO has the main role of directing the United Nations’ health systems while working with partners in global health matters. With the involvement with WHO, Bagdasarian’s experience combatting the virus encompasses parts of the world. Now, she will be focusing on controlling things in her own backyard.
She has Degrees from Three Michigan Colleges
One certainty about Bagdasarian is her abundance of knowledge. She has degrees from three Michigan colleges, beginning with a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from Kalamazoo.
From Kalamazoo, Bagdasarian turned her sights to the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, where she graduated in 2001 with a master’s degree in hospital and molecular epidemiology.
After graduating from there, Bagdasarian moved on to the Wayne State University School of Medicine, where she became a doctor of medicine in 2005.
She also has an internal medicine residency and an infectious diseases fellowship from the University of Michigan on her resume.
She has Worked to Correct COVID-19 Misconceptions
Bagdasarian has been one of many doctors on the front lines of a secondary battle amid the pandemic: the war against misinformation. In a WDET article and interview from earlier this month, Bagdasarian talked about common misconceptions she has heard and had to address.
“I eat healthy, work out and take immune-boosting supplements so I don’t need the vaccine,” she told WDET in the interview while explaining a commonly believed, falsehood she has seen. “It’s fantastic that people are healthy … but vaccines give a set of detailed blueprints to the immune system so your immune system isn’t caught off guard.”
She also talked in the interview about the importance of masks, and—most importantly—the importance of wearing them properly. Filtration and fit are key when it comes to masks, she told WDET.
“Filtration is how many particles go through that mask and then fit — how tight is it on your face? Medical and cloth masks can have gaps. The simplest thing to do is to make sure that the fit is really good — no leaks!”
Love Developed in a Lab
Bagdasarian met her husband while attending Kalamazoo College when they were both first-year students. The duo were lab partners in their first biology course, which ultimately helped them decide where to go in their respective careers; for Bagdasarian, that meant continuing down the science route. For her eventual husband, Vahan? A career in economics and sociology, straying far away from science.
Ironically, the class put Bagdasarian behind schedule when it came to applying to medical school, ultimately leading to her path to the University of Michigan.
“While on foreign study, I read a book called, The Hot Zone,” Natasha told Kalamazoo College in a September 2020 profile. “It talks about investigating Ebola outbreaks and I was absolutely captivated. That sort of propelled me through medical school with this goal in sight that I was going to be an infectious disease doctor and work in outbreaks.”
The Pandemic has Taken Bagdasarian Around the World
Bagdasarian was working in Singapore when the pandemic began. She was an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at National University Hospital, holding a job that involved outbreak response and tracking infections.
She told Kalamazoo College in a recent profile that she was concerned Singapore would become a hot spot for the virus. Eventually, most of the world became a hot spot.
“Singapore was right in the path of this because we had a lot of direct flights between Singapore and Wuhan, and this was happening right before Chinese New Year when a lot of Singaporeans travel,” Bagdasarian told the college.
Bagdasarian returned to Michigan in the summer of 2020, with her husband and young child.