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From CMO To Data Analytics? Why Alaska's CMO Is Leaving

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   February 28, 2024

Anne Zink, credited for life-saving work during the pandemic, is leaving her CMO role in seach of work in healthcare data.

Anne Zink, MD, is stepping down from her role as chief medical officer of Alaska effective in April.

Alaska's CMO is a position within the state Department of Health that reports to the commissioner of health. It is a position that is appointed by the governor, but it does not have to be confirmed by the legislature. The primary responsibilities of the role include providing clinical advice to the governor and the Alaska Department of Health.

Zink's successor has not been named.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has credited Zink with saving many lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The big thing that I credit for the successes during the pandemic in Alaska was our partnership with communities, including tribal leaders, municipalities, and local individuals at community healthcare organizations," Zink says. "I also was inspired by the ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving attitude of Alaskans. Despite the fact that we had no commercial testing for the virus in Alaska when the pandemic began, we were the most tested state in the nation in the first year of the crisis. When the vaccines rolled out, we were able to get vaccines out and were the fastest vaccinated state in the country despite being bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined."

Zink says she was involved in "countless initiatives" during the coronavirus pandemic.

"I participated in daily news briefings with the governor to make sure that communities were aware of what was happening and were able to make the best decisions they possibly could," she says. "Alaska repatriated the first flight from Wuhan, China, so we were very involved with the federal government's response to the virus from early on. We stood up our emergency response system in January 2020, so we were involved in the pandemic response early on. In testing, we manufactured our own swabs, we created our own testing platform that we got FDA-approved, and our public health labs did most of the testing in the first year of the pandemic. We were the first state to offer monoclonal antibodies in a community-based setting as a treatment option. We set up the first airport testing site."

Anne Zink, MD, is chief medical officer of the state of Alaska. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Health.

Zink has been involved in several initiatives beyond her work during the pandemic.

"I have been focused on how we can make systems work better for patients, instead of asking patients to take on the burden of our complex and broken systems," she says. "I have also been focused on how we can have a healthcare system focused on health instead of a healthcare system responding to illness."

Since Zink started as the state's CMO in July 2019, she has been focused on complex care to serve patients with multiple behavioral health and physical medical needs as well as focused on data.

"I have worked to make sure that we have secure data that is patient-centric, so that a patient has access to their own information—what I call data democratization," she says. "I have tried to make sure that public policy officials such as the governor have the information that they need in terms of healthcare data and public health data to make decisions. I have tried to simplify data so that healthcare providers on the frontline have the information they need to care for their patients in real time."

A practicing emergency medicine physician, Zink says working in an emergency room has provided a solid foundation for serving as Alaska's CMO.

"In emergency medicine, you have a frontline view of all the ways that the system does not work. I have been able to work in the emergency department and see problems, then go back to my day job and find ways to make the system better," she says. "There were about four months when I didn't see patients during the peak of the pandemic because of the demands of the CMO job. I quickly realized that I needed to see patients to stay grounded in the purpose of what I was doing. It has been an amazing opportunity to do both jobs simultaneously. I can serve patients and work on high-level policy issues."

After she leaves the Alaska CMO role, Zink says she plans to find a position working in healthcare data.

"For both healthcare and public health to do their mission of improving the health and well-being of populations, data is at the core," she says. "Data is going to be one of the key ways we provide insight to understand the challenges, solutions, and how we move things forward. If you do not have the data, you cannot tell the story in healthcare. I have had the honor to work in the CMO role for nearly five years, and I have seen many times that the data element has been lacking."

Physicians should seize on opportunities to work in the CMO role, Zink says.

"For a hospital or health system CMO, many hospitals and health systems are really doing public health. They are starting to think about and are being financially rewarded for population health efforts," she says. "There is a real need in hospital leadership as well as in larger health system leadership to have a clinical voice to say, 'What makes sense for the patient? What makes sense for the clinicians who are practicing?' As a hospital or health system CMO, you can play a major role in finding solutions."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Anne Zink was involved in "countless initiatives" during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to her work during the pandemic, Alaska's CMO has been involved in complex care and improving access to healthcare data.

Zink says working as a practicing emergency medicine physician has provided a solid foundation for serving as Alaska's CMO.

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