As Barry R. Bloom prepares to step down, he offers some thoughts for the
next dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.
I write to wish you well in your new role as leader of the most influential School of Public Health in the world, and to share with you my appreciation of what a privilege that role has been for me.
To begin, it was my great fortune to have been the beneficiary of the outstanding leadership of Harvey Fineberg, my predecessor as dean, and of Jim Ware, the School’s longtime dean for Academic Affairs, who ably led the School prior to my arrival. Both raised the word “stewardship” to an unprecedented level. I inherited a great leadership team that is responsible for maintaining our financial soundness, which the School has now enjoyed for 21 years. Thanks to them, despite what has been a financially volatile time for science in this country, we have succeeded even in creating some reserves for scholarships and new initiatives.
You will be privileged to inherit a brilliant and entrepreneurial faculty, comprising individuals—including four MacArthur Foundation ‘geniuses’—who are outstanding in so many areas, from the basic sciences in public health, to the quantitative sciences, to the social and policy sciences. All are committed to tackling tough problems in the most interdisciplinary way.
We are blessed with an extraordinary and diverse student body, coming now from 55 countries. The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has an unparalleled history of producing leaders in health worldwide, including six directors of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one director-general of the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, the new students amaze us, being every year even brighter and more motivated than we have seen before.
The School’s staff is truly dedicated to our shared mission—to advance the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication—and provides support essential to our ability to achieve our shared goals. We have worked hard to be transparent in communicating to members of our community major issues and finances, as well as in sharing with them the accomplishments of the School beyond the areas in which they work. We hope we have recognized their outstanding and vital contributions.
HSPH has an extraordinary group of alumni, friends, volunteers, and supporters who believe passionately in our mission and are dedicated to helping us to achieve every aspect of it. I am deeply indebted to the many individuals who have been so generous to the School and so personally helpful to me throughout my tenure.
Guiding Principles and Values
You will find a School with an articulated set of principles developed to guide the administration, including transparency, fiscal responsibility, fairness, and respect for all members of our community. I am confident that you will share and sustain these values.
We at HSPH have a deep conviction that education in public health, in contrast perhaps with other faculties emphasizing disciplines and skills, should focus on problem- solving. We have initiated an exciting and transformative new approach to public health education, aiming ultimately to revolutionize the way the field is taught and learned. While respecting the integrity of our important disciplines, the new educational framework will increasingly emphasize active- and case-based learning.
In the context of enormous challenges in health, HSPH’s faculty has developed a creative vision for integrating the disciplinary commitment of the departments with five major agendas in public health that link determinants of population health with major cross-cutting agendas in which we are committed to making a difference. Those agendas are infectious diseases, particularly those affecting developing countries; chronic diseases; the unnecessary threats to health, which include environmental threats, injuries, and humanitarian crises; health disparities; and health systems. All require the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations for which the School is renowned.
A Global Perspective
Within the School there is a deep and shared commitment to global health, to targeting the most profound disparities in health, to creating long-term collaborations and partnerships, and really to making a difference in people’s lives, especially those of the poor within our country and globally. You will inherit research and training projects in approximately 50 countries. We are addressing the global problems of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria; studying obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer; evaluating the health impacts of air and water pollution and preventable injuries; and training colleagues to develop sustainable efforts in these areas. Every member of our faculty is committed to reducing health disparities. In addition, the School has increasingly taken on study of the problems of inadequately functioning health systems.
HSPH has developed an extraordinary capacity in public health to communicate the results of our scholarship to the scientific community, policy makers, and the general public, with the aim of informing them and, hopefully, serving to improve health-related behaviors and change health policy. Our ability to disseminate information, convene experts, and call attention to issues of worldwide importance represents a unique capability among schools of public health that can serve as a great platform for your own ideas and programs.
Redefining Public Health
The anticipated prospect of moving to a new campus in Allston, which would bring us together from 33 dispersed buildings with almost no space for student activities to a new home across the river from Cambridge, represents an unprecedented opportunity for you to help create a vision for the School’s role in the University. Your challenge will be to take the lead in this bold venture and, in so doing, ultimately help to redefine the field of public health.
A new campus will enable you to build on our vision of how our School, with its faculty at the cutting edge of laboratory sciences, quantitative sciences, and social and policy sciences, can connect and collaborate with our colleagues in Harvard’s affiliated teaching hospitals, its medical school, its professional schools, and its faculty of arts and sciences, to enrich and be informed by the knowledge within this great University. And this will provide you with a great opportunity to challenge the brightest undergraduate and graduate students in the world to think about how they might engage and contribute to improving health for all who inhabit this planet.
My fondest wish is that your tenure be as exciting (or perhaps, on reflection, almost as exciting) and as fully rewarding as mine. May you also have the resources and support necessary to raise the School to a new level of scholarship and service to the University, the country, and the world.
Barry R. Bloom Dean, Harvard School of Public Health Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson II Professor of Public Health