Inspiring public health leaders

The world needs more role models

Last week, I spoke briefly to a ballroom of health directors and other public health leaders attending the 2013 North Carolina State Health Director’s Conference. It’s always inspiring to talk with these people who run health departments across North Carolina and provide the central leadership for public health. They’re out on the front lines making communities healthier and safer. They face diminishing funding, fewer staff and more complex problems. And most are paid far too little. Yet, as a group, they’re amazingly upbeat. Three truly inspirational people spoke that morning.

Myron Cohen, MD

Dr. Myron Cohen is the J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology and in the UNC School of Medicine, professor of epidemiology at Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease. Dr. Cohen, who made the concept of AIDS “treatment as prevention” widely accepted protocol, talked about his team’s dogged pursuit of AIDS prevention and the many challenges of the research project.  The large group of investigators and staff members persisted, overcame obstacles and made a transformational discovery that became the Science magazine Breakthrough of the Year in 2011.

Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH

Dr. Linda Rae Murray has spent her amazing career serving the medically underserved. Dr. Murray is chief medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health in Oak Forest, Illinois. Dr. Murray served as president of the American Public Health Association during 2011 and has been a voice for social justice and health care as a basic human right for more than forty years. She said that the Affordable Care Act is the down payment on the dream of making health care a right for everyone in this country (including immigrants). We shouldn’t only be concerned about health disparities, she said. We also should be outraged by health inequities. It was a stirring talk that reminded me again how easy it is to become complacent and not be moved to action by the health injustice we see around us.  “Are we where we thought we should be?” she asked us. “Are we where we want to be?” She recounted the unacceptable disparities between minorities and whites in the U.S. and urged us to build a health care system prepared to meet people where they are. Here’s a video of Dr. Murray at the 2011 APHA meeting.

Wanda Jones, DrPH

No, we are not where we should be and not where we want to be. But thanks to Dr. Murray, a lot of people left the meeting just a bit more inspired to change the status quo.

Next week, I’ll write about Dr. Wanda Jones, the third speaker, another phenomenal woman who also happens to be an alumna of our School.

We all need a good dose of inspiration every now and then. We got it last week in Raleigh. Happy Monday. Barbara.

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