Wilma J. Wooten, MD, MPH, knew she wanted a career in medicine by the time she was in high school. After graduating in a class of just 24 people, she joined Spelman College and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology. She went on to matriculate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned a Master of Public Health and a Doctor of Medicine by 1986. Between 1986 and 1989, she completed her family practice residency at Georgetown University and Providence Hospital before moving to San Diego, California, for a preventive medicine residency at the University of California San Diego. While she completed the residency in just a year, Dr. Wooten stayed on at UC San Diego as a faculty member and clinical professor in the department of family and preventive medicine until 2001.
In 2001, Dr. Wooten joined the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency as a deputy health officer, rising to become the public health officer and director of public health services in 2007. She remained in this role until 2021, when the role split, and she took over exclusively as the public health officer for public health services. Today, Dr. Wooten continues to flourish as a noted expert in public health and population health; health disparity and equity; chronic and infectious disease; environmental health; maternal, child and family health services; and health care access. Throughout this period, she has continued to be active with UC San Diego, serving as an adjunct professor and on the advisory board for the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science.
Furthermore, Dr. Wooten was actively involved in San Diego’s early response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where they leveraged several existing programs in support of the community and made significant improvements to practices as they learned more. In order to keep abreast of developments in her field, she maintains affiliation with a number of professional organizations, including the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development and the Public Health Accreditation Board, where she serves on the board of directors and chairs the accreditation committee. She is notably a past president of the Health Officers Association of California and the California Conference of Local Health Officers, the past chair of the Big Cities Health Coalition and a past board member of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Between 2015 and 2019, Dr. Wooten was a member of the advisory committee to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She continues to be involved with the CDC as the principal investigator for a $28.2 million infrastructure grant and is greatly looking forward to implementing her work plan. Her dedication to health equity can be traced back to her college days when she was involved with the Student National Medical Association, which gave her the opportunity to do a medical mission to Africa. This was followed by two medical missions to both Jamaica and Kenya and five medical missions to Ghana over the course of her career.
Dr. Wooten lives her life by the motto, “Stay the course,” a quote by Dr. David Satcher, the 16th surgeon general of the United States. In that light, while she has begun thinking about retirement, she hopes to continue to enhance public health leadership, workforce development and community partnerships and leave a strong legacy of success and growth for the next person to take her role. Throughout everything, she has attributed her success to her dedication and tenacity as well as to having a strong team and dedicated community partnerships. For her excellence, Dr. Wooten was named San Diegan of the Year by the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2020.