Gov. Doug Burgum today appointed Dr. Nizar Wehbi (Nee-zar Wee-bee) to serve as North Dakota’s State Health Officer, effective May 1. Wehbi currently serves as deputy director of the Center for Health Policy and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
Wehbi has served as the Center for Health Policy’s deputy director since January 2016, conducting research and policy analysis to inform policymaking with a focus on improving population health and the efficiency and effectiveness of the health care system. In that role, he led initiatives to address binge drinking and colorectal cancer and conducted analysis on the health care workforce shortage. As an assistant professor in the College of Public Health at UNMC, Wehbi directs the master’s in health administration (MHA) program, with teaching areas of focus that include health administration, health policy, the U.S. health care system and human resources management.
Prior to his current roles, Wehbi served as a senior planner in the Strategic Planning and Business Development Department at Nebraska Medicine. He began his career in clinical medicine, caring for patients in inpatient and outpatient settings and later, as an instructor of surgery at UNMC, joining a research team to identify biomarkers for early detection and risk assessment of bladder and prostate cancers.
“Dr. Wehbi brings the right combination of experience in clinical medicine, policy development and health administration that we need to create the best public health system in the country right here in North Dakota,” Burgum said. “We look forward to him serving the citizens of our state and leading the outstanding team at the North Dakota Department of Health, who through their tireless efforts during COVID-19 have shown what it means to empower people, improve lives and inspire success.”
Wehbi earned his medical degree in Lithuania and his master’s degrees in public health and in business administration from the University of Nebraska. He also holds a graduate certificate in quality, patient safety and outcomes research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and currently serves a three-year term on the Board of Governors of ACHE. Wehbi has served on the National Board of Public Health Examiners since 2013 and on the board of directors of Clarkson College since 2019.
"I am truly honored and humbled to join and lead the great team at the North Dakota Department of Health as they continue their critical work to improve access to and delivery of quality health care and wellness services, promote emergency readiness and response, and manage emerging public health challenges. They have been working hard to respond to the COVID pandemic, and there is still more work to be done as vaccine rollout continues,” Wehbi said. “I look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders including state, local, federal and tribal agencies to improve the health and wellness of North Dakotans. When it comes to health, North Dakota can be the leader and role model for the entire nation."
Burgum expressed his gratitude for interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke, who has served in the position since September and will return to his role as the Department of Health’s chief of staff.
“Dirk has gone above and beyond during his time as interim state health officer, tackling one challenging issue after another with the utmost professionalism and a laser focus on the health and well-being of all North Dakotans,” Burgum said. “We are deeply grateful for his service.”