Welcome Joshua Sharfstein
The new Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training gets social.
Joshua M. Sharfstein wasn’t content meeting and greeting students and faculty in a staid, traditional way. Recently, the Bloomberg School’s new Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training hosted a Twitter chat, inviting those from around the School and across the globe to join him in a live—and lively—conversation.
The discussions focused generally on public health practice, and specifically on his new role in academia: Dr. Sharfstein is the former Health Commissioner for Baltimore City, Principal Deputy Commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Secretary of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
There’ll be lots more opportunities in the future to engage with him on Twitter as well as other social media. In the meantime, here are his answers to just a handful of burning questions.
How do you define public health practice?
Public health practice is how people in our field actually save lives. It starts with an insight, a research finding—something that tells us we’ve got an opportunity. Public health practice involves the translation of that into policy which, when implemented, promotes the health and vitality of people and communities across the world.
What brings you here, to the Bloomberg School?
After public service, some pursue a corporate consulting path, and others a path focused on reflection and writing. I was interested in building on what I’ve done, but also learning new things. This is a place where I can keep growing and learning while working with a tremendous team and contributing to an effort that is changing the world. I’ve had a long and rewarding association with this School, so when it came time to move on, coming here was an easy decision.
How has your experience in public service informed what you bring to academia?
I’ve had experience translating research into policy at different levels: In Baltimore city, at the FDA, and the state health department. There’s a myth that evidence is all you need for an idea to become policy; that if you just prove that something works, it will be done. In reality, there’s a gap between the evidence on the one hand, and the opportunity on the other. My career has been focused on trying to bridge that gap, which is an exciting challenge. How do you get good ideas implemented? How do you make the best use of evidence when opportunities arise? How do you respond to a crisis in a way that sets yourself up for long-term progress? All those are interesting challenges that I’ve dealt with in different settings. I will draw on this experience as I help students and faculty connect with meaningful policy opportunities and have a bigger impact.
You want students to take the world by storm. What advice do you give about how to do that?
There’s a lot that can be accomplished at the intersection of public health and the law and at the intersection of public health and the medical system. Students can find support for innovation in places that might have been off the radar screen before. It’s no longer the standard public health toolbox. This will allow students with energy to blaze new trails.
What’s the biggest myth about public health?
That it’s a field for dour and miserable killjoys. This is a myth that can’t survive meeting our students and faculty. There’s a reason people who work in public health are happy. By keeping people and communities healthy, public health promotes family, friendship, recreation, and fun. Public health allows people to live their lives.
What’s tops on your to-do list?
I want to make the ability to translate ideas and effective interventions into actual practice more tangible for people. Along those lines, there are a number of different kinds of initiatives we’ll be pursuing. Some will be ripped from the headlines, like the Measles Symposium. Others will be be more investigative or reflective in nature about the roles people can have in public health practice. I could not be more inspired to contribute to this School’s mission of saving lives.