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WiseWords

EIGHT titans of public health have almost five centuries of experience between them. They shared these special words with us. When they talk, we listen. Susan Baker crusaded for injury prevention • George Comstock made key discoveries in tuberculosis prevention and treatment • Pearl German put gerontology on the map • Lawrence Grossman pioneered the field of DNA repair and skin cancer • Edyth Schoenrich is a renowned teacher, physician, researcher, administrator and academic dean • Keerti Shah and his colleagues discovered the groundbreaking link between HPV and cervical cancer • Barbara Starfield championed primary care and health equity • Carl Taylor dedicated his career to improving the health of the world’s poorest people

Interviews by Kristi Birch

Heroes

Keerti Shah

“He’s always looking out for everyone else’s good. He’s been a fantastic mentor for students.”
Diane Griffin, MD, PhD, chair, Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, on Keerti Shah

GROSSMAN: I don’t really have heroes, but there are people I admire. My father never got beyond the fourth grade, but he learned French and English and German. These are the kinds of people I respect.

BAKER: My husband [Timothy Baker, MD, MPH, professor of International Health] would have to be number 1. I would not be doing this if he had not inspired and encouraged me.

GERMAN: My husband. And Sam Shapiro, the statistician and epidemiologist who was head of the Health Services Research Center. He had a bachelor’s degree in a world of PhDs and MDs. You went in and asked Sam a question and when you left you knew everything about the subject that was important.

STARFIELD: People who successfully combine concern for individuals with concern for populations, such as Che Guevara and Paul Farmer.

SHAH: Charles Darwin. His work is voluminous and he’s very logical. And he was a modest person. He always thought lots of other people were smarter than him.

TAYLOR: Jim Grant, [former] head of UNICEF, and Halfdan Mahler, [former] head of the WHO, were two of the wisest and most dedicated persons I’ve ever known, but their approaches were so different: Mahler promoted comprehensive primary health care, and Grant was promoting selective primary health care.

Challenges

Edyth Schoenrich
“My name for her is ‘Mother Hen.’ When I first became dean, I punished her by making her senior associate dean, which she had been 20 years before, and she was already in semi-retirement. She spares no opportunity to correct me and tell me how things should be done. And she’s usually right.”
Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS ’73, dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on Edyth Schoenrich

GROSSMAN: In order to get a [college] degree, I had to go back to high school for a year after I got out of the service. [I had to] march from class to class with kids who were five years younger than me.

SHAH: I did my medical studies in India. I never did any lab work while I was in medical school and we hardly ever read any journals. I did not know as much as the medical students here. But you don’t need to know everything. You can learn as you go along.

GERMAN: I had three children. I was married. I [had to work] things out so that my family didn’t get short-changed, particularly the kids. My husband was encouraging and he was an academic, so his hours were flexible. Everyone had jobs in the family. Tasks fell naturally. In the end, it turned out to be good for my kids, especially my daughters.

Gems

Pearl German
“She started her career in her 40s. That’s rather remarkable. In a much smaller period of time, she accomplished so much.”—Donald Steinwachs, PhD, chair, Department of Health Policy and Management on Pearl German

SCHOENRICH: [I love] hot-air ballooning. I have ballooned in the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Tuscany, Austria, Turkey and in the winter in the Swiss Alps.

BAKER: The motorcyclist magazine Road Rider named me “Bad Guy” of the month in the 1970s for fighting for mandatory crash helmets.

COMSTOCK: I was in probably the first recorder quartet in this country. I also played the flute. And then in my old age, I finally got paid for writing a book chapter. I blew it on a bassoon. I gave it up a year ago. I don’t have time anymore.

GERMAN: There’s an understanding and a knowledge and a wisdom in getting old. My granddaughter touched the wrinkles on my face and said, “Grandma, do they hurt?” Not only do they not hurt—I’m proud of them.

Success

Barbara Starfield

“She’s out there: Three countries a week is not uncommon. The joke is, ‘Where in the world is Barbara Sandiego?’”
Jonathan Weiner, DrPH ‘81, professor, Department of Health Policy and Management on Barbara Starfield

COMSTOCK: I have had two burning ambitions in my life: never to write a book and never to be a department chairman. So far, I have achieved both. I have stayed in the field and I have found it more interesting to be there.

TAYLOR: What makes the most difference to improving health is not so much what physicians do, but what communities do. I started a program training community health workers in Tibet in a nature preserve. The program took off so fast that that after four years, 300 villages were demanding one.  Political leaders took control and more than tripled the numbers we were training. It was much more effective than if we had just been running a program for them.

Surprises

Carl Taylor


GROSSMAN: [One of my surprises was] that I could get a PhD. My wife said, “You? Get a PhD?” I was determined to show her.

SCHOENRICH: It’s not always a disadvantage to be a member of a minority group. When I went to medical school, there were only three women in [my] class of 75. One time, a professor asked a trick question and I gave the answer. From then on, faculty would pass me in the hall and say, “You must be the medical student who knew the answer to Dr. So-and-So’s trick question.” If one of the men had done it, they wouldn’t have noticed.

TAYLOR: Getting the Certificate of Commendation from the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. I didn’t expect that. I thought I was a humble villager.

Experiences

George Comstock

“I got an email from him last week wanting me to write a book chapter with him. How many 90-year-olds do you know who do that?” —Richard E. Chaisson, MD, director, Johns Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research on George Comstock

TAYLOR: In 1949 during the riots for independence in India, I headed a relief team working in the worst of the riot areas doing cholera control and taking care of survivors of massacres. There were swords and spears and old-fashioned weapons. These were really massive massacres in the old-fashioned way. For six months, we were right there.

COMSTOCK: We did the first trial of the BCG vaccine on schoolchildren in Columbus, Georgia, and found that not only did the vaccine not work, but the TB came from people already reacting to the small dose [in the vaccine]. I got an award from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. I think this is the first time anyone has ever gotten an award for persuading people not to do something [use the vaccine].

GROSSMAN: I was a fighter pilot in World War II. My plane was hit by a five-inch shell off the coast of Okinawa. I made a decision to crash-land into the ocean. I was alone. I was 18 years old. I was in a raft. I didn’t understand why I was singled out for surviving and my friends were killed. I was picked up by a destroyer the next day. I told them I could teach people how to be a fighter pilot but I’m not going to shoot anymore.

BAKER: I spent a week on an aircraft carrier on maneuvers. And that week was a lifetime opportunity. I talked to people. I went all over the carrier, watched the flight operations, talked to the officers and crew, and asked them what they saw as problems.

GERMAN: I grew up in a poor household during the depression. My parents said you have to get skills to get a job. I took a variety of secretarial courses. Then I moved to New York where there were free colleges. I went to Hunter from early morning to mid-day, and then I worked till 10 at night. I lived at the 92nd Street Y. I considered that whole part of my life as a privilege. The cultural things that were available for people who were poor—you felt not deprived at all.

Choices 

Lawrence Grossman

“Even today, he’s having lunch with students, to see what’s going on with their lives. Not only is he good at the sciences, but in he’s interested in developing students and in their futures and their careers.”—Roger McMacken, PhD, chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology on Lawrence Grossman

GROSSMAN: [One of the reasons I came to the School] was Abe Lilienfeld. He was a remarkable scientist and he used populations of people as a biological source material. It was an incredible group of people. They were right out there in the streets and in the sewers.

STARFIELD: After my husband and I got to know each other in college, he said, “I have no intention of marrying a woman who doesn’t have a career.” It sure propelled me to have one. I went home and visited two medical schools, and I said, “I know it’s late but can I be in the class next year?” One of them said, “Would you like to teach anatomy?” They gave me a cadaver and I became a teaching assistant. And my husband has continued to be supportive. That’s how I had four kids and managed to do what I did.

BAKER: When I was getting my MPH, I went down to Annapolis with my husband, Tim Baker. He was testifying in favor of a bill allowing Maryland police to test drivers for alcohol. This was in 1967 when such things were controversial. I listened them talk about motor vehicle crashes and realized there was nobody at the School working in this area. So I began doing research on alcohol and motor vehicle crashes.  

Lessons

Carl Taylor

“He is so passionate, so committed to improving health around the world that he just won’t stop.” –Robert Black, MD, MPH, chair, Department of International Health on Carl Taylor

COMSTOCK: Horace Mann said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” All of us can win some victory. It’s the net result of lots of little victories, rather than the big ones, that counts the most.

SCHOENRICH: You don’t have to plan out your whole working life from beginning to end. Just start out doing your thing. Even if you don’t know where you’ll end up, you can have an exciting life. But never lose sight of your values. You should have a purpose, a passion that drives you.

TAYLOR: It’s so much fun to work with village people in places like Tibet and the Andes and Afghanistan. You learn so much when you listen to them. That’s the main thing I’ve learned during recent years doing community-based work: to listen.
 


Susan Baker

Susan Baker, MPH ’68
Professor, Health Policy and Management
Director, NIAAA Training Program in Alcohol, Injury and Violence
First Came to the School: 1962
Years of Experience: 54

Specializing in injuries related to motor vehicles and airplane crashes, Susan Baker has fought hard to translate her research into public policy to prevent injuries. Her  research in the 1970s  prompted many states to enact child-restraint laws in automobiles. The first director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, she also developed the widely used Injury Severity Score. She is a licensed private pilot and has served on FAA-sponsored expert panels on shoulder-restraint use and the Age-60 Rule.


George W. Comstock

George W. Comstock, MD, MPH, DrPH ’56
P
rofessor Emeritus, Epidemiology
Director Emeritus, George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention
F
irst Came to the School: 1962
Years of Experience: 68

George Comstock served as chief of epidemiologic studies from 1956 to 1962 for the Division of Tuberculosis Control of the U.S. Public Health Service. In the 1960s, his work in Alaska demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug isoniazid (INH) in preventing TB—data that were still used in the 2000 CDC guidelines regarding INH therapy. For over 40 years, Comstock  directed the Center for Public Health Research and Prevention in Hagerstown, Md., recently renamed in his honor. 


Pearl German

Pearl German, ScD ’72
Professor Emerita, Health Policy
and Management
First Came to the School: 1970
Years of Experience: 56

When Pearl German came to the School over 30 years ago, there was no gerontology curriculum. Combining her expertise in health services research with her knowledge of behavioral sciences, she defined gerontology as a field in public health. In 2004, the Gerontological Health Section of the American Public Health Association—a section she herself helped create—honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A nationally recognized expert in gerontology, she has conducted research involving nursing home populations, mental health and preventive programs for the elderly.


Lawrence Grossman

Lawrence Grossman, PhD
University Distinguished Service Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
First Came to the School: 1975
Years of Experience: 56

Larry Grossman is a pioneer in the field of DNA repair. He has investigated the role of DNA repair in preventing cancer—especially skin cancer caused by DNA damaged by ultraviolet light. Grossman quit high school in 1941 and the following year enlisted in the U.S. Navy. When his fighter plane was shot down off the coast of Okinawa, he spent two days floating alone in a raft until a U.S. destroyer rescued him. He resumed his education after the war under the GI Bill, eventually earning his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Southern California.


Edyth Schoenrich

Edyth Schoenrich, MD, MPH ’71
Director, Part-Time Professional Programs; Associate Chair, MPH Program
First Came to the School: 1964 
Years of Experience: 64

Edyth Schoenrich is the consummate public health professional: She has been a physician, a research scientist, a public health administrator, a teacher, and an academic dean. A chief resident in the private service at Hopkins Hospital from 1951 to 1952, she later directed adult preventive services at the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. At the School she has served  as a professor in Health Policy and Management and as senior associate dean. Most recently, she’s been involved in designing flexible public health graduate programs for working health professionals.


Keerti Shah

Keerti Shah, MBBS, MPH ’57, DrPH ’63
Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
First Came to the School: 1956
Years of Experience: 54

After 20 years of research, Keerti Shah and his colleagues proved that human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cancer of the cervix. This was the first time a virus was found to cause every case of a common cancer. Today, his laboratory is researching the connection between HPV and cancers of the oropharynx. He is also assisting Hopkins investigators who are developing an HPV-based therapeutic vaccine for cervical cancer.


Barbara StarfieldBarbara Starfield, MD, MPH ’63
University Distinguished Service Professor, Health Policy and Management
Director, Primary Care Policy Center
First Came to the School: 1962
Years of Experience: 51

Barbara Starfield’s work helped establish the importance of primary care physicians in a culture that often equates better health care with more specialists. In 1992, she published the “bible” on the subject: Primary Care: Concept, Evaluation, and Policy. She has also done extensive research on child health and the impact of income on health equity. In 2004, she won the Baxter International Foundation Health Services Research Prize—one of the highest distinctions in health-services research. Today, she travels around the world researching the impact of various aspects of health services on health.


Carl Taylor

Carl Taylor, MD, MPH, DrPH
Professor, International Health
First Came to the School: 1961
Years of Experience: 68

In 1961, Carl Taylor, along with Timothy Baker, PhD, founded the School’s Department of International Health—the first at any school of public health in the world. The son of medical missionaries, Taylor spent childhood summers “camped out in the best jungles of the world” while his parents delivered health care to some of the world’s poorest people. He has dedicated his own career to what he terms “poverty medicine,” working in more than 70 countries. UNICEF representative for China from 1984 to 1987, today he continues to work to improve health in developing nations through partnerships between governments, health care experts and the communities themselves.