Fall Dean's Letter October 2022
Why I'm Optimistic for the Year Ahead
It was a warm summer evening. Scientists, activists, philanthropists, and people whose lives had been changed forever by gun violence had gathered. We were meeting in person after months of planning the launch of our new Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Pamela Hoehn-Saric, a longtime, dedicated supporter of our work, was our host. A late day rain did not cloud our mood. The conversation was informed, nuanced, determined—and hopeful.
That night, the tragic toll of mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Highland Park, and so many other communities was in our hearts. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision loosening gun permit laws was on our minds.
But not one person had given in to despair. Everyone was there because they believe change is possible. They believe in the power of public health. And they believe in the Bloomberg School community.
I believe in us, too. The challenges we face—the pandemic, systemic racism, threats to reproductive health, humanitarian crises, among them—are daunting. But as we begin another academic year with talented students filling the School hallways and our Zoom classrooms, I am full of optimism.
The work of our School, and the work of public health more broadly, gives me so many reasons to feel hopeful.
We are advancing. Facing COVID-19, the scientific community made leaps that will have a lasting impact. Researchers quickly expanded our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and created treatments and diagnostics in real time. New vaccines were developed within a year. That is nothing short of a modern miracle.
Through it all, the Bloomberg School played an outsized role. We developed saliva tests, coordinated treatment trials, and swiftly created policy reports. We shared information and expertise as knowledge advanced from day to day. What’s more, the research and collaborations forged during the pandemic’s early days—both here at our School and beyond—continue to expand and evolve as we study the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and prepare for future emergencies.
We are adapting. From the moment the pandemic took hold, we have all proven how flexible we are. Our School made an unprecedented, overnight pivot to online learning when the pandemic was at its height, launching our Virtual Plus Campus and then further evolving it to our current Hybrid Campus. In responding to each challenge, we gained lessons we can apply to future ways of working and teaching.
Attitudes adapted, too. While some of the most basic principles of science were questioned, we moved forward with greater empathy to listen and meet people where they are. We have increased our focus on mental health, wellness, and work-life balance. And we were reminded anew that our health is tied to the health of those around the world, confirming the importance of addressing the health, social, and economic needs of everyone, particularly the most vulnerable.
We are leading for change. Every day, we are breaking ground on new ways to translate evidence into programs and policies that protect the public’s health.
The Center for Gun Violence Solutions has helped lead advocacy efforts to pass extreme risk protection orders (a proven method of reducing injuries and deaths) in 17 states. Our policy researchers released a proposal for a national program to improve financing and delivery of the HIV prevention medication PrEP, an effort to bring the HIV epidemic’s end one step closer. Our School helped launch the Opioid Industry Documents Archive, a digital repository of more than 1.4 million litigation documents that will serve as an essential resource for understanding the role of manufacturers and others in the opioid epidemic. Our Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health played a key role in the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter hearing aids, which has the potential to help millions of Americans. And the landmark Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 included drug pricing reforms that will save $290 billion over the next 10 years and increase access to lifesaving drugs—changes made possible, in part, by the analytic work our faculty did for Congress.
With these projects and so many more, we are leading efforts to unleash the power of public health.
We are growing stronger. Through the heartbreak and triumphs of the past two-and-a-half years, we have seen a growing interest in public health. The evidence is clear from the media attention, the visibility of our School as a trusted resource, the demand for careers in the field, and the millions who have enrolled in our massive open online courses. We have also seen donors, both new and long-standing, come together in record numbers to bolster our ability to advance research and support our growing student body.
This past spring at the Bloomberg School’s 104thconvocation, we celebrated our largest class ever—1,243 graduates representing 65 countries. They joined the ranks of more than 27,000 alumni worldwide. Their efforts to build a better world are tireless and far-reaching—from Mónica Guerrero Vázquez, MPH ’18, promoting health and opportunities for the Latinx community in Baltimore to Lauren Underwood, MPH/MSN ’09, representing Illinois in the U.S. Congress to Robert Ssekubugu, MSPH ’10, improving HIV prevention and care in Uganda.
It’s easy to associate public health with the problems we face and the difficult headlines. That’s why it’s so important that we elevate solutions and acknowledge the power of the work we are doing—particularly in a climate where public health professionals have faced attacks and threats for doing their jobs. Firefighters battling a five-alarm blaze are seen as heroes; those who work in public health should be seen this way, too.
When you read about new gun safety legislation or advances in antiviral medications or lower maternal and child death rates around the world, always remember that our field and our School are at the forefront of progress. We learn new lessons every day because our community is curious, restless, and dedicated to helping those in need.
The challenges are great, but our will is greater. As we look to the year ahead, I know you will remain committed and I urge you to stay hopeful.
Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75
Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
PS – If you’d like to connect further, please contact me at JHSPH.email@example.com.