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Thankful for a "World-Class Education"

Bret Smoker

Online MPH student Bret Smoker expresses gratitude from New Mexico.


Family physician Bret Smoker was 20 years into a meaningful medical career with the Indian Health Service (IHS) when he enrolled at the Bloomberg School’s Online/Part-time MPH Degree program.

“What’s so sweet and wonderful about this experience is that I don’t need this degree, I want this degree,” says Smoker, who dedicated 13 years to an IHS assignment on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. “I sought this out for enrichment and intellectual stimulation. And it has exceeded my expectations twenty-fold.”

The drill since 2013: By day, Smoker serves as the clinical director of the IHS Santa Fe Service Unit and by night, studies public health. His passion is to elevate the health status of the American Indian population to the highest level.

Courses with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health (CAIH) have enhanced Smoker’s knowledge of the history of Native American health care and the political decisions that have shaped it.

"I now have a richer, deeper understanding of the specific health care disparities in this population that have persisted over decades,” Smoker says, praising the flexibility of the program. He listens to lectures and takes exams on his own time, but enjoys ready access to his professors.

“The faculty, if anything, has been more accommodating and more accessible than I was used to in more traditional settings,” Smoker says. “I think they go out of their way to be prompt in answering questions and to help out folks struggling with course material.”

His faculty advisor is CAIH director Mathuram Santosham, MD, a professor who Smoker describes as “the granddaddy, the guru, the go-to-guy” among experts who study American Indian health issues. An international network at the Bloomberg School means Smoker can tap into classmates and faculty working on six continents—an opportunity he never anticipated as a part-time, online student.

“I’m just blown away with how hands-on and personalized the experience has been,” Smoker says. “I really feel like I’m part of the Hopkins community now.”

—Salma Warshanna-Sparklin