Public Health

Commencement afterglow, death by e-mail and other topics

May 19, 2008

Commencement afterglow

img_9861-title1.jpgThis past week, I’ve been reviewing pictures of the School of Public Health’s commencement on our website. Thanks to Ramona DuBose for these fabulous pictures! (View pics on Flickr.) I’m struck anew by the joy and pride in the faces of our graduates (alumni!) and their families—and what a family affair it was. This is so different from my generation when many of us shunned graduations and other ceremonies. I still feel exhilarated by the School’s 2008 commencement, and I deeply enjoyed interacting with our students and their families and friends. I’m so grateful to Assistant Dean Felicia Mebane and her team, as well as Brent Wishart, Rob Kark, student services managers (some of the most beloved people in our School), student marshals and our Communications group for all they did to make the event successful.

Death by e-mail (IM etc)

I’ve been thinking about all the ways in which e-mail has come to dominate our lives, giving us instant access to people all over the world but potentially drowning us in more information than we can handle. I worry that by attending meticulously to the hundreds of e-mails in the daily inbox, leaders may focus too much on the immediate and insufficiently on the longer-term, strategic mission and goals that are the purview of organizational leadership. Our over-reliance on e-mail, coupled with multi-tasking, sometimes leads to messy interactions with my_tombstone-6.jpgcolleagues, because we may write faster than we think. (I have been guilty of this.) We may forward a message too quickly without thinking through the ramifications. E-mail also has tremendous advantages. We may expand dramatically the range of people with whom we can communicate. And it sure beats the phone for quick answers to straightforward questions and interacting with people in far-flung time zones.

It seems like many of us are trying to find a way out of the e-mail conundrum. While we do not want to go back to a world without e-mail, we also want to regain some measure of the control over our lives that has been lost. One senior person said she was considering an e-mail free day in her office. An intriguing idea but not very practical given that some e-mail is highly time-sensitive. I’ve read a lot about managing e-mail and talked to many smart people about it. I do not have the answer. Maybe one of my readers does. I do know one thing for sure. I don’t want my epitaph to read…Here lies the dean, buried in e-mail.

What I’m reading

In the past week, I’ve worked through a couple of stacks of journals, like JAMA, and read a new Institute of Medicine report titled Knowing What Works in Health Care. (Thanks to my colleague Dr. Bob Croyle, Director Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute, for alerting me to it.) IOM reports are generally a terrific way to get a substantive overview of fields and problem areas. The report’s premise is that decisions about health care of individual patients should be based on best evidence. The same should be true of decisions we make in the public health sector. The report deals with accepted methods to assess evidence and makes a series of recommendations about how to review and use evidence at the government level. I don’t agree with all the recommendations, but it is a thoughtful, thorough report. Schools of Public Health should assure that all students are familiar with accepted methods to review evidence and how they can be good consumers of evidence. One of the most satisfying and productive intellectual experiences of my career has been participating in evidence reviews.

I also was struck by a very interesting JAMA article about population health by Kindig and colleagues (A Population Health Framework for Setting National and State Health Goals). They propose a potentially useful way of thinking about population health and the factors that influence health outcomes. The authors argue that by setting targets in relation to health determinants and health outcomes, we’re more likely to consider potential downstream consequences of pursuing particular goals and actions to achieve them. The article mentioned America’s Health Rankings, an activity Professor Tom Ricketts leads on behalf of our School, in collaboration with United Health Foundation.


It was so good in the last week to hear from Dr. Michel Ibrahim, former Dean, UNC School of Public Health, and now professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Ibrahim led our School extremely well at a critical time in its history.

It’s hard to believe it is almost Memorial Day. Happy Monday, Barbara

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.