Estevan Garcia—who is currently chief medical officer of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health—has been appointed Dartmouth’s inaugural chief health and wellness officer. He begins the job on March 4.
The creation of the position reflects President Sian Leah Beilock’s inauguration pledge to make mental health and wellness an institutional priority. A nationwide search for the position began last summer.
“In centering the health and well-being of students, educators, and staff—which also aligns with creating the best environment for academic excellence—finding the right leader for this role has been crucial,” President Beilock says.
“Dr. Garcia combines a broad understanding of public health with the deep experience of a lifelong clinician. He is a courageous and outspoken advocate who is committed to creating a holistic, integrative approach to supporting the health and wellness of the whole community.”
Garcia, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine, will report to the president and will oversee the Dartmouth College Health Service, the Student Wellness Center, and Employee Wellness. He will be a member of the president’s senior leadership team and serve as an adviser and spokesperson for all health matters affecting students, faculty, and staff.
He will also play a key role in implementing Commitment to Care, Dartmouth’s strategic plan for student mental health and well-being, and work closely with Dartmouth Health as well.
Garcia calls being tapped to fill the inaugural position at Dartmouth “an honor.”
“Especially after COVID, I witnessed many young adults in crisis. I transitioned to public health to try to figure out more broadly how to prevent the kinds of crises I was seeing in individual patients. What drew me to Dartmouth is the opportunity to cultivate a resilience framework in a community of high-achieving young adults, some of whom need support with mental health and behavioral health concerns,” he says.
“I see this as an opportunity to have a broad impact, because as students go on to become leaders in their industries and the world, they will bring an appreciation of how resiliency contributes to what it takes to be successful.”
The chief health and wellness officer role includes supporting faculty and staff.
“As faculty and staff, we need to model wellness behaviors for students so that they understand that it’s important,” Garcia says. “My role is to advocate for the resources we need to be able to model those behaviors.”
Garcia plans to be very visible on campus. “I want to make myself available. Initially it’s about getting to know who the students are, what their needs are, and making sure that they understand how to communicate with me. I plan to have an open-door policy and to host student forums and small groups. Students may see me sitting in the cafeteria. I want to get to know them as individuals.”
Originally from Texas, Garcia graduated from Austin College with honors in psychology and attended medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He completed his residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, part of UT Southwestern Medical Center, and went on to earn a master’s of public administration from New York University and a doctorate in public health from City University of New York.
Garcia chose to pursue a career in medicine because of his own family’s tragic experience.
“I had a sister who had leukemia as an infant and died within four months of being born. I was 13 when she got sick, and we had a family pediatrician who helped get us to the care we needed at Texas Children’s Hospital. I saw how caring the doctors and nurses were for my family, even when there was nothing that they could do.”
At first he set out to become a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, but found himself more drawn to emergency medicine. “I was like, I like this. These are not long-term patients. I get to make quick decisions that have an impact. Kids in general get well. One of the benefits of pediatrics is that often minor interventions, from my perspective, can have a big impact on children’s lives.”
Among his responsibilities at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, he has served as an adviser for the Department of Mental Health’s Behavioral Health Roadmap, which provides a blueprint for expanding access to effective and equitable treatment throughout the state.
Previously he served as chief medical officer at Cooley Dickinson Health Care, a Mass General Brigham affiliate, and at Brookdale University Hospital, in Brooklyn; vice president and medical director for risk management at Hospitals Insurance Company; and interim CEO of Tewksbury Hospital in Tewksbury, Mass.
He is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and has published nearly a dozen peer-reviewed papers. He has served on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems and the boards of the Child Advocacy Center of Northampton, Mass., and of GLMA, the oldest and largest association of LGBTQ+ and allied health professionals.
He is also president of the board of TreeHouse Foundation, an organization that creates intergenerational communities for families with foster children. Garcia and his husband, William, have fostered more than 20 children, and have raised three adopted children.
The search committee was chaired by Jomysha Delgado Stephen, executive vice president for strategy and special counsel to the president, and William Torrey, the Raymond Sobel Professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine.
“Dr. Garcia brings energy, creativity, and extensive clinical and public health experience to this exciting new opportunity. I know that he will have a very positive impact on lives in our Dartmouth community,” Torrey says.
Committee members included Andrew Campbell, the Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of Computer Science; Matthew Duncan, assistant professor of psychiatry and medical education at Geisel; Mike Harrity, the Haldeman Family Director of Athletics and Recreation; Anne Hudak, associate dean of student support services; Sara Lester, chief human resources officer; and Janice McCabe, associate professor of sociology and house professor of Allen House.
“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Garcia to Dartmouth and grateful to the search committee for their diligent effort to find the right person for the job,” Beilock says.