What It’s Like To: Be the Surgeon General of California

Dr. Diana Ramos of Laguna Beach became the state’s second-ever surgeon general in August.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

At first, I thought it was a joke. I had received an email saying, “Are you interested in being nominated for the position?” I ignored it. Finally, I got a text saying, “Diana, we’ve been trying to contact you and we want to know if you will be considered.” In looking back at my career, hindsight is 20/20. I see that everything I’ve done has prepared me for this moment.

I have been living in Orange County since 2001, but I was born and raised in Los Angeles in a single-mom household. My mom would work up to three jobs at a time to afford to send me to the best school she could. She told me, “When I die, I’m not going to leave you rich with money, but I will leave you with something no one can take away from you, and that’s an education.” I would take the bus to my high school in West L.A. even though we lived in South Central. I studied really hard, and I always wanted to be a doctor. I always wanted to be able to help somebody. I loved to teach. And helping people and teaching is what a doctor does. I always say, “Try to teach your patient.”

I went to USC for undergrad and USC Medical School. I did my residency in OB-GYN and went on to get a master’s in public health at UCLA. And most recently, I received my MBA from the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. Along the way, I got married and ended up in Laguna Beach. I was also formerly president of the Orange County Medical Association. I still live here because COVID-19 demonstrated that we can work remotely, and the governor realizes that Southern California has some of the state’s biggest movers and shakers. It’s wonderful to be able to mostly stay here in person and be a local resource.

My undergrad was in communications. So it’s great that this role allows me to communicate to the public what’s important for health. I’ve been doing a lot of Spanish-
speaking media, and I look forward to being that voice for the Hispanic community.

I’ve been in public health for more than 17 years, and I understand what the priorities are. Mental health is the common denominator for many of the challenges Californians are being faced with. Folks are dealing with depression and anxiety. They medicate with food and that can lead to obesity and diabetes. They medicate with substances and that can lead to substance abuse. Negative stressors take a toll on our children especially. And as an OB-GYN, reproductive health is also really important to me. And it’s not just the pregnancy part, but all the way through raising children, family health, menopause. I have an email folks can use to contact me about whatever issues they have, whether it’s accessing healthcare or any health challenges:

Many times, California is a role model for the country. There are only a few other states with surgeons general. That says a lot about the governor, that he recognizes you need a leader to promote health. My mother, my husband, and my son all flew up to Sacramento when I was appointed, and we stood next to the bear statue right outside the governor’s office. My mom held the California Constitution, and it was a dream come true. Looking back to where I started and where I am now, I tell people I feel like Cinderella.
—As told to Astgik Khatchatryan

Read More from our January 2023 Top Doctors Issue: