Spotlight on Mark Gibson

Director, Center for Evidence-based Policy


Photo Credit:  Marisa McKinney
Mark Gibson is the Director of the Center for Evidence-based Policy. Mark brings to the Center more than two decades of experience as a health policymaker, as both Chief of Staff and as a Policy Advisor for Health and Human Services to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

How did you get interested in health policy?

I was a fire fighter and paramedic for more than 11 years.  I also served as Chief Medical Officer for my fire district. I quickly realized public policy had an enormous effect on how we did our job and how well we could actually help patients in the field.  As a result, I began to participate in state advisory committees and professional organizations that helped shape policy related to emergency care.

Later, as Chief of Staff to Senate President Kitzhaber, when we began work on the Oregon Health Plan I became the lead staff person for the issue by virtue of being the only one on the Senator’s staff who had any medical training.  That assignment stuck through my tenure in the Senate President’s office and then as Policy Advisor for Health and Human Services for Dr. Kitzhaber when he became Governor of Oregon.

How does your experience as a policymaker inform your approach?

While understanding the importance of new medical discoveries, I have come to truly value research that is directly applicable to decision making, either for patients, clinicians, or policy makers.  I’m also very sensitive to conflicts of interest and political ideology.  I’ve been pitched by some of the best lobbyists in the country and they have cited research as support for their products or positions. After review I’ve often found that the research was either poor quality or misrepresented. Having an independent and trustworthy resource for research is critically important for policy makers. When it comes to ideology, I’ve learned that fervently held political beliefs unleavened by facts can lead to poor outcomes.  If you are committed to using good quality research to inform your decisions, you become a better steward of the public trust.

What are the opportunities ahead?

While methods in health care research have been significantly improved by the “evidence-based medicine” movement, they need continuous improvement.  There will always be a surplus of questions that need answers in public policy, so the opportunity to be relevant to important issues is assured.  There are also opportunities for other health related fields to use the experience of the health care researcher to improve their own work on questions that may have an even greater impact on human well being.  As resources diminish, this work can help us obtain maximum value for the investments we make in social supports and health care.