From Texas to Tanzania

From Texas to Tanzania | Donald J. Wright, MD
From 2020-2023, Dr. Donald J. Wright served as US ambassador to Tanzania. Dr. Wright speaks on behalf of the US government.

While Donald J. Wright, MD, MPH ’99, was working as a family physician in Texas, his interest in population health led him to leadership roles in the federal government and a Tanzanian ambassadorship.

Dr. Wright knew at a young age that he wanted to be a physician. He found the human body intriguing and liked helping people. Early in his career, while working as a family physician in Texas, he acquired an interest in population health.

Dr. Wright saw this as a way to improve the health and lives of whole groups of people. So, he charted a new way forward. It was a path that included earning his Master of Public Health degree from MCW in 1999.

“The foundation I gained at MCW in epidemiology and statistics was invaluable and served me for the next two-plus decades,” says Dr. Wright.

During that time, his roles included director of the Office of Occupational Medicine in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Department of Labor; a variety of leadership roles in the Department of Health and Human Services including the deputy assistant secretary for health; and nearly three years as ambassador to Tanzania from 2020 to 2023.

Dr. Donald J. Wright visits a USAID agriculture project in Tanzania that improves agricultural productivity
Dr. Wright visits a USAID agriculture project that improves agricultural productivity.

As ambassador, Dr. Wright served as the US president’s highest-ranking representative to Tanzania and the East African community and oversaw a team of more than 600 staff. Dr. Wright was responsible for an annual operational and foreign assistance budget of $800 million and for advancing US security and economic interests in the region.

“It was very rewarding to work as ambassador because I saw firsthand the impact of our country’s generosity,” says Dr. Wright. “Much of our funding went to improve the health of the people who live in Tanzania.”

About 60 percent of the annual operational and foreign assistance budget was directed toward health issues such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and food insecurity. As ambassador, Dr. Wright led President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine uptake project in Tanzania, which increased vaccination rates from 15 percent of the eligible population to 80 percent. US financial support also was directed to conservation projects that protect parks and wildlife.

Dr. Donald J. Wright meets with Her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania
Dr. Wright meets with Her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania.

Throughout his career, Dr. Wright has focused on disease prevention and keeping people out of the healthcare system. “We need to focus more on preventing chronic disease,” he says. His efforts during his many leadership roles have been consistent with this belief, as his teams developed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (more commonly known as the “My Plate”) and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that are now considered best practices, as well as prevention guidelines for mammograms and flu shots.

“I wanted to be able to say I used my skills, talents and leadership to improve the human condition here and abroad,” adds Dr. Wright.

Reconnecting With an Old Friend

Dr. Donald J. Wright reconnects with a medical colleague 35 years after Dr. Wright’s first visit to TanzaniaAfter Dr. Wright completed his family medicine residency training at Baylor College of Medicine in 1985, he visited Tanzania to gain experience helping people in an underresourced country. During that trip, which included work at a hospital, Dr. Wright gained a love for the country’s people and their culture. The trip turned out to be quite fortuitous.

“Little did I know when I left Tanzania in 1985 that the next time I would return would be as an ambassador,” shares Dr. Wright. He also didn’t realize that a medical student with whom he worked during his first trip became the chief of staff at the hospital where they first had met. They reconnected in 2020 when Dr. Wright returned to Tanzania (pictured right).

– Anthony Braza

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