Press Releases

NYS Commissioner of Health Announced as 2017 Commencement Speaker

March 28, 2017

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Howard Zucker, MD, JD, New York State Commissioner of Health, will be the speaker at the College’s 137th commencement ceremony taking place Saturday, May 13 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

ACPHS President Greg Dewey also announced that the College will present honorary degrees to Michael Botticelli, the former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Guthrie (Gus) Birkhead, M.D., M.P.H., the recently retired Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Health. Dr. Zucker will also receive an honorary degree.

“As we move towards a more patient-centric health care system, the crucial connection between public health and pharmacy is increasingly evident in areas ranging from research to education,” said President Dewey. “We have acknowledged this development at our College by launching a Bachelor’s program in Public Health and forming a Department of Population Health Sciences in the past year, which makes it especially fitting to have these leaders from the field of public health join us for this year’s commencement ceremony.”

As Commissioner of Health for New York State, Dr. Zucker oversees an agency that seeks to promote and protect the health of all New Yorkers. He is board-certified in pediatrics, anesthesiology, pediatric cardiology, and pediatric critical care and trained at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Boston Children's Hospital. Before joining the state Department of Health, Dr. Zucker was a pediatric anesthesiologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and ran the pediatric intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He has held academic appointments at Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and Albert Einstein medical schools and served on the clinical faculty at the National Institutes of Health. Earlier in his career, Dr. Zucker served as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization.

Michael Botticelli is the Executive Director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center. He previously worked for four years in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) under President Obama. He served as Deputy Director of ONDCP for two years followed by two years as the Office’s Director. During his time with the White House, he helped lead the Administration’s drug policy efforts and advance historic drug policy reforms and innovations in prevention, criminal justice, treatment, and recovery. Prior to joining ONDCP, he served as Director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Born in Waterford, NY, Mr. Botticelli holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Siena College and a Master of Education degree from St. Lawrence University.

For 27 years, Dr. Gus Birkhead was one of the leading public health voices at the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). At various times throughout his career, he oversaw the activities of the NYSDOH's four public health centers and two public health offices: the AIDS Institute, Center for Community Health, Center for Environmental Health, Wadsworth Laboratories, Office of Public Health Practice, and the Health Emergency Preparedness Program. Despite retiring from NYSDOH as Deputy Commissioner in 2015, Dr. Birkhead remains active in the field, serving as Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University at Albany School of Public Health, where he has been on faculty since 1988. He is also a part-time Medical Officer working for the National Vaccine Program Office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

Founded in 1881, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is a private, independent institution with a long tradition of academic and research excellence. The College is committed to educating the next generation of leaders in the health care professions and translating scientific discoveries into therapies that benefit humankind. In addition to its doctor of pharmacy program, ACPHS offers five bachelor’s programs and five graduate programs in the health sciences. The College has campuses in Albany, New York and Colchester, Vermont. For more information, please visit


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