Defining Public Health
the exhilirating events of the last several months, beginning with
the renaming of the School as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health and topped off with the election of Al Sommer to
the National Academy of Sciences, you would think that we would
all be sitting around celebrating. We are celebrating, but simultaneously
we are in the throes of thinking about the challenges of communicating
our new name and, most importantly, while we're at it, trying once
more to help people understand what it is that a school of public
health does and how critically important it is to the world's health,
stability, and economic future. How can something so central to
life be so darn hard to define?
A recent poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows what
we are up against. When asked, "When you hear the term 'public
health' what do you think of?" and given a choice of four descriptions,
more than half (57 percent) of the respondents could not define
public health as either protecting the population from disease or
as policies and programs that promote healthy living conditions.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is generally
acknowledged as the world leader in its field. But, if more than
half the people don't know what that field is, we have work to do.
This issue may give you an idea why it's difficult to communicate
what we do. As told in an in-depth feature, the malaria parasite,
an age-old scourge that kills 1.5 to 3 million people per year,
has a new foe: the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. On
a quite different front, a School-advised initiative is working
to secure universal health insurance in Maryland an
effort that could be copied nationwide. How does one easily sum
up a range of efforts that includes these activities?
Even more frustrating is trying to adequately articulate how unique
this School's faculty is. I hope you'll keep that challenge in mind
as you read "In Harm's Way" and the "Prologues"
story on Anna Baetjer. The intensity of purpose and mission that
permeates the School is palpable. If, as Al Sommer notes in his
"Et Al" column, we are overcome by the intensities of
modern communication, why isn't there a new way to describe this
tradition of commitment and excellence without sounding trite or
overly sentimental? If the "techies" can have a whole
new vocabulary, why can't we?
Tell me how you would describe us in a word or in five minutes
write to me, e-mail me, or call. I'd love to hear your thoughts
and, while you're at it, you may have some stories of your own to
add to those of our faculty described in "In Harm's Way."
Finally, we have sadly said farewell to Mary Mashburn, who served
as editor of Johns Hopkins Public Health for the last several
years. She was a driving force in helping us find "our voice"
for the magazine and we will miss her. Fortunately for us, Brian
Simpson, whose feature articles you have read on our pages, has
agreed to step up to this new assignment, and I am confident that
we will continue to produce a superb magazine.
SYLVIA EGGLESTON WEHR