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Who's Who: David Prezant, MD

David Prezant, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY)
Special Advisor to the Fire Commissioner on Health Policy
Director, World Trade Center Health Program at FDNY
Professor of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center


David Prezant, MD

Three statements about you – two true, one false.

  • Being the chief medical officer for the FDNY is like being a small-town physician in one of the largest cities in the world.
  • Thankful for all the things that have happened to me, both professionally and personally.
  • Semi-professional athlete.

Give us your ‘elevator pitch’ biography. 

Sometimes things happen for a reason, sometimes not, and sometimes it's hard to figure out.

In the summer between high school and college, I was a lifeguard at a lake community. One late, foggy afternoon - in a setting right out of a Stephen King novel - an elderly woman came out of nowhere and asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I said that I was not sure of exactly what, but certainly something in science. She said that would take great dedication from both myself and my family. That I should think carefully about choosing such a career and that if I did, I should think carefully about who I marry as the sacrifices my family would endure would be significant. Before, I could reply, she disappeared into the fog over the lake and I never saw her again. Accidental meeting or my guardian angel?

Decades later on Sept. 11, 2001, while preparing to triage patients as they came out of the World Trade Center I was caught in the collapse and thankfully survived. The experience gave me a greater appreciation of what healthcare needs would be for those that survived, especially for our first responders, and allowed us to partner with labor, management, goverment and philanthropy to create the WTC Health Program.

I have the greatest job in the world. I have helped more people than I ever thought possible and in turn that has provided me with a happiness that I cannot put into words. And yes, my family has made many sacrifices, but surprisingly they still love me. Has my life been a success because I listened to her advice or because I ignored it? Sometimes you know, sometimes you don't, and sometimes it's hard to figure out.

What would you tell yourself as an Early Career Professional? 

There are many opportunities and challenges that the future may hold. To succeed, preparation is critical along with a healthy measure of luck and thankfulness for all the people and events that have allowed you to get to where you are.

If you weren’t in medicine, and were in a different industry altogether, what would you be?

An unhappy biochemist.

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?

Now that my kids are all grown up, I love watching movies and going to the gym.

What areas of medicine are you most excited to see develop?

Increased awareness that every aspect of medicine, current or future, only makes a difference if we make certain that its design and implementation improves healthcare delivery to the communities/cohorts that we are lucky to serve. 

What is one advancement in your field you’d like to see in your career?

I can name three: 
  1. Free medical school education, but coupled with a commitment to give back via service to an underserved community/cohort.
  2. Free healthcare, but coupled with a commitment for shared responsibility (patient, provider, and administration) for adherence to screening, monitoring, and treatment guidelines.
  3. Free 911 ambulance response, but coupled with a commitment to provide and receive emergency services only for life-threatening conditions.

Which statement did you make up?

Semi-professional athlete.