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April 26, 2004

Robert Blum Installed As Inaugural William H. Gates Sr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences

Calling it “truly the most extraordinary moment of my professional life,” Robert Wm. Blum, MD, MPH, PhD, was installed as the William H. Gates Sr. Professor and Chair of the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on Friday, April 23. 

Dr. Blum is the first to hold this professorship, endowed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“You might think it strange to create this chair after a retired lawyer,” said William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the foundation, adding, “My concern for reproductive health spans many years.” He remembered when his son, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, sent him an article about children dying of disease with a note attached that read, “Dad, maybe we can do something about this.” The result was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His work there led him to School of Public Health. “It was a simple matter of love at first sight,” he said. “It was a common interest.” 

In January, Dr. Blum joined the faculty of the School of Public Health from the University of Minnesota, where he is the outgoing director of the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health and director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Collaborating Center in Adolescent Health. Dr. Blum’s research interests include adolescent sexuality, chronic illness, and international adolescent health care issues.

Dr. Blum said he never expected a career in pediatrics or adolescent health. “It was falling in love with a 3-year-old redhead with a terrible disease that changed my path forever,” he said. “Coping with overwhelming illness became a focus of my professional life.” Another focus has been disparities in health outcomes resulting from both economic and social factors.

Dr. Blum received his medical degree from the Howard University College of Medicine. He did his pediatrics training, earned his master of public health in Maternal and Child Health and doctorate in Health Policy from the University of Minnesota. In 1978, he founded the adolescent health program at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Blum was also co-investigator for the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, the largest survey of American youth ever undertaken. Recently, he published a study in the American Journal of Public Health debunking the myths that race, income, and family structure can be major predictors of youth health risk behaviors.

For many years, Dr. Blum has served as a U.S. representative to the WHO. He has also served as a consultant to the Pan American Health Organization, World Bank, and UNICEF. He has been chair of the Alan Guttmacher Institute Board of Directors and was president of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. He also chairs the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Youth Health and Development. “These appointments attest to the breadth of his expertise,” said Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, Dean of the School.

“The dedication of an endowed professorship is a very special moment, said Sommer. "I am delighted to welcome Bob Blum to the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I believe he will lead Population and Family Health Sciences, which is already an outstanding department, to even greater heights.”

Dr. Blum takes over for Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH, who led the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences for nearly 14 years. Dr. Guyer stepped down as chair to focus on his scholarly activities as the Zanvyl Krieger Professor of Children’s Health and direct the Doctor of Public Health degree program.--Kristi Birch

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.