[ Winter 2012 ]
Alumni Award of Merit winners on why public health is compelling
Each year, Harvard School of Public Health awards four distinguished graduates the Alumni Award of Merit—the highest honor presented to an alumna or alumnus. The award is given to individuals whose leadership, community service, contributions, and commitment to the field of public health exemplify the School’s ideals.
Hugh S. Fulmer, MPH ’61
For a career spent putting public health theory into practice through community-oriented health care and preventive medicine programs.
From 1958–1960, I worked at the Navajo-Cornell Field Health Research Project at Many Farms, on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, as clinic medical director and research associate. I was repeatedly confronted with what I didn’t know about public health and the science of epidemiology. An HSPH physician grad student, visiting us as a consultant, helped me see my ignorance. We had cases of anemia on the reservation. In preparation for his arrival, I had pulled the charts of all 36 patients with anemia from our clinic’s family- and community oriented record system. He looked through them and said, “You have a significant public health problem. But to study it further, you can’t just review their charts as a clinician—you have to take a random sample of the whole community, get hematocrits, establish the prevalence of anemia in the population.” That episode was startling to me. Not only was it part of my introduction to “denominator” medicine, but it sparked a career-long focus on the need for merging medicine and public health in education and practice.
J. M. Yolene Vaval Suréna, MPH ’81
For decades of on-the-ground work addressing public health challenges and disaster response in her native Haiti.
Day Six after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we were tired, food was scarce, and we had been sleeping on small mattresses outside for only a few hours at a time. The city smelled bad, flies were all over the place, and we were threatened with rain. The teams were showing signs of exhaustion.
Around 6:45 am, I dropped a medical team at a hospital and congratulated the night shift for its work,
putting smiles on exhausted faces. I attended the 7:00am meeting between national and international head agencies to plan and coordinate responses with the Prime Minister and prepare his address to the nation. By 10:00 am, I had located 200 tents and sent a team to set them up. Everyone’s determination was inspiring.
William N. Rom, MPH ’73
For contributions to environmental and occupational medicine through clinical research, public policy, and advocacy for the underserved.
In July, I work on the wards at Bellevue, when we get all the new interns and fellows. We hear half a dozen different languages from our patients—from Farsi and Bengali to Polish, Mandarin, and Spanish. These patients are really sick. Deciphering their illnesses and deciding how to manage them is a huge challenge.
What I’ve learned over the years is that public health is science-based. Once you have the data and the scientific argument down pat, you can win the day. I’ve also learned about the importance of perseverance. Whether it’s going after grants or trying to achieve something, you just have to keep at it. You are one little cog in the wheel—but your little contribution helps make the wheel go around.
Earl Francis Cook, Jr., SM ’77, SD ’83
For contributions to clinical epidemiology and impassioned teaching and mentorship.
In public health and clinical medicine, epidemiology is a core basic science—if not the core basic science. It involves a set of skills that is used in other areas of public health. One epidemiology professor used to say “It’s the queen science of public health.” As a teacher, the best thing is to see our students become teachers. I take great pride in the Program in Clinical Effectiveness that we helped develop in Argentina, which is modeled after our program at Harvard; our students at Harvard became faculty in Argentina’s program. It’s a lot more effective to take the training program to the audience than to bring the audience to Harvard.
Adrianne Appel is a Boston-based science writer.
Alumni Weekend 2011