Harrison Alter

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Harrison J. Alter
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CitizenshipUnited States Of America
Alma mater
  • Brown University
  • Highland Hospital in Oakland
  • Physician
  • Researcher
  • Public health official

Harrison J. Alter is an American physician, researcher, and public health official, who is currently serving as interim Medical Director of Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless. Alter is known primarily for his role in the creation of Social Emergency Medicine, which incorporates social context into the structure and practice of emergency care[1]. In founding the Andrew Levitt Center for Social Emergency Medicine in 2009 [2], Alter drew together disparate efforts in medicine and public health to take advantage of the unique role of emergency departments to help meet social needs. An author of more than 50 scientific papers, many on social factors[3], Alter also co-created and compiled Inventing Social Emergency Medicine[4], the proceedings of a foundational conference of the same name[5], and is co-editor of a textbook on the subject, Social Emergency Medicine: Principles and Practice, due for publication in 2020. In it, Alter and his co-authors and editors cover the role of the emergency care system in managing housing, food security, anti-racism, educational and employment opportunity, anti-trafficking efforts and more. Alter is board certified in, and actively practices, Emergency Medicine, and is an Associate Editor of Academic Emergency Medicine[6].

Education and Career

Alter received his Bachelor of Arts with honors in Comparative Literature from Brown University, and his M.D. and Master of Science from the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. Alter trained in Emergency Medicine at Highland Hospital (Oakland, California), and was a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Prior to medical school, Alter worked at the Kaiser Family Foundation, drafting a plan to increase proportions of students from under-represented groups entering the health professions. After completing his training, Alter became the director of the emergency department at Tuba City Indian Hospital[7], and helped transition it to tribal ownership as the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in 2003 under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638). Alter later returned to Highland Hospital, where he became Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine, and Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at UCSF.

While at Highland, Alter and colleagues there launched the Andrew Levitt Center for Social Emergency Medicine[8], where he was Executive Director until 2018. The Levitt Center is dedicated to advancing Social Emergency Medicine through research and advocacy, and is active in a number of issues that affect the lives of people seeking emergency care. Through the Levitt Center, Alter helped create the first help desk for health-related social needs in an emergency department[9], and served on the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Institute’s blue-ribbon commission in 2015[10]. Alter also served as inaugural chair of the Social Emergency Medicine Section of the American College of Emergency Physicians, 2018-2020.


  1. Stockman, Farah (25 July 2020). "In Era of Sickness, Doctors Prescribe Unusual Cure: Voting". The New York Times.
  2. Hoge, Patrick (25 Dec 2017). "Treating the Whole Patient". www.oaklandmagazine.com. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  3. "Harrison Alter - Google Scholar". scholar.google.com. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  4. "Social Emergency Medicine". Emergency Medicine Foundation. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  5. "Inventing Social Emergency Medicine A Consensus Conference to Establish the Intellectual Underpinnings of Social Emergency Medicine". Annals of Emergency Medicine. 74 (5). November 2019. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  6. "AEM Journal". www.saem.org. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  7. Groopman, Jerome. "How Doctors Think". The New Yorker. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  8. "The Andrew Levitt Center for Social Emergency Medicine". The Andrew Levitt Center for Social Emergency Medicine. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  9. Losonczy, Lia Ilona; Hsieh, Dennis; Wang, Michael; Hahn, Christopher; Trivedi, Tarak; Rodriguez, Marcela; Fahimi, Jahan; Alter, Harrison (1 September 2017). "The Highland Health Advocates: a preliminary evaluation of a novel programme addressing the social needs of emergency department patients". Emergency Medicine Journal. 34 (9): 599–605. doi:10.1136/emermed-2015-205662. ISSN 1472-0205. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  10. "Human Trafficking Responses in California: A Focus on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children" (PDF). Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved 31 July 2020.

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