A former Linwood resident and Mainland Regional High School graduate is likely to lead the state’s Department of Health under Gov. Phil Murphy after getting approval from legislators last week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Dr. Shereef Elnahal’s nomination as the new health commissioner Friday. He will officially become commissioner after a full Senate approval.
The physician credited his roots in South Jersey and his experience in medicine for his desire to serve in the position.
“It is there that they (his parents) raised my siblings and me,” he said in a testimony to the committee. “It is there that I learned the true meaning of family, community, state and patriotism.”
Murphy nominated Elnahal, 32, for the role in January, saying he believed the doctor would be able to address issues and challenges that face residents such as quality of care, closing coverage gaps, restoring funding for women’s health programs and pushback in Washington against the Affordable Care Act.
“Too many people in New Jersey suffer from similar or worse afflictions— opioid addiction, mental health conditions, homelessness — and do not have access to what I have depended on my entire life,” Elnahal said in a statement.
Before Elnahal became a state-appointed physician under Murphy and a federal one under President Barack Obama in 2015, he and his siblings grew up in Galloway Township and Linwood, where his parents settled after emigrating from Egypt.
Elnahal’s parents became physicians and spent their professional careers treating residents of Atlantic County. Elnahal attended St. Augustine Prep in Buena Vista Township and later Mainland Regional, where he graduated second in his class in 2003.
He was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 12 years old and said he depended on the support of his parents, “who would yell at me when I didn’t take my insulin,” as well as local physicians and dependable health insurance to manage the disease.
“That is why there would be no greater honor for me than to be confirmed as your next health commissioner, knowing full well that it may be the greatest repayment I could offer to a state that has given us so much,” Elnahal said at last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing.
Elnahal graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in biophysics and attended a dual-degree program at Harvard University for his medical degree and an M.B.A. with Distinction. He trained as a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
The doctor also worked at a number of U.S. Veterans Affairs hospitals to improve care access for veterans and active-duty service members and has authored several publications on health care policy, operations and other initiatives.
Obama appointed Elnahal to the VA as a White House Fellow in 2015.
Before moving back to New Jersey with his wife, Marwa, daughter and a second child on the way, Elnahal left his position as the VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary of health for quality, safety and value in the Veterans Health Administration. He was also an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University.