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Ten Lessons in Public Health

Inspiration for Tomorrow's Leaders

Alfred Sommer, M.D., M.H.S.

Publication Year: 2013

There are occasions when a story told from a personal viewpoint can illuminate a profession. Alfred Sommer’s epidemiological memoir is such a book. Adventurous, illuminating, and thought provoking, Ten Lessons in Public Health is more than the story of one man’s work. It tells the tale of how epidemiology grew into global health. The book is organized around ten lessons Sommer learned as his career took him around the world, and within these lessons he explains how the modern era of public health research was born. Three themes emerge from Sommer's story: the duty to help your fellow human beings by traveling to places where there are problems; the knowledge that data-driven research is the key to improving public health; and the need to persevere with sensitivity and strength when science and cultural or sociological forces clash. Nothing in this compelling, sometimes controversial, history is glossed over, as the book’s goal is to explain when and why public health efforts triumph or fail. Readers will travel to Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, South America, and the Caribbean, where they will learn about spreading epidemics, the aftermath of storms, and vexing epidemiological problems. Sommer reveals the inner politics of world health decisions and how difficult it can be to garner support for new solutions. Triumph, tragedy, frustration, and elation await those who set off on careers in public health, and Ten Lessons in Public Health is destined to become a classic book that puts the field into perspective.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-5

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 6-11


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

“Global health” now attracts the interest of the press, the World Economic Forum, and young people everywhere— undergraduate and graduate students, physicians, nurses, health managers, and public health professionals of every stripe. It has become the destination major of many applicants to university schools of arts and sciences, medicine...

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1. Go Where the Problems Are

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pp. 1-6

Inspired during medical school by John F. Kennedy’s framing of the choices for my generation, my wife, Jill, and I decided that once my training was completed we would serve in the Peace Corps.
Three years later, much had changed. With a year of medical residency still to go, I received an official letter from...

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2. Get into the Field

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pp. 7-14

While our home was in Dacca, my work was “in the field.” I wasn’t sent to Pakistan to live the good life in a compound but to learn how cholera, that rapidly lethal diarrheal disease, spread and to test new vaccines to prevent it. Cholera would occasionally break out of its historical...

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3. Forget the Job Description

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pp. 15-22

On October 16, Dacca was warm and humid, but not unbearably so. We were hosting a dinner party that evening, but we thought nothing of the darkening clouds and wind that began to build in the late afternoon. It was a typical day during the late rainy season, and it began to...

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4. Don’t Count on Things Staying the Same

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pp. 23-30

Nothing is stable if one takes a long enough view, but some things and some places are particularly and selective political history of the land to which I had been the west and east “wings” of Pakistan, divided by a roughly politicians and military officers of Jinnah’s home, in the west the official language. After the inevitable language riots that ...

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5. Follow Most, but Not All, of the Rules

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pp. 31-40

What might seem to some an insignificant issue loomed large at this moment. In the hastily arranged evacuation, we learned, dogs were not allowed to accompany evacuees. What were we to do with Bacchus, our six-year-old Cairn terrier? To leave him behind meant certain...


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pp. PS1-PS14

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6. Collect Good Data—Even if You Don’t Yet Know What Important Questions They May Answer

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pp. 41-46

I knew almost nothing about smallpox, but I did know the countryside of what was now Bangladesh. Stan noticed about him was his love of his title, his authority, and front of the large, isolated building, I discovered that he had that vaccination as late as six days after initial infection pro-cine to review the president’s policy. Tony’s first chart came ...

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7. Remember Your Humanity

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pp. 47-50

Several days before we had been evacuated from Dacca during the civil war (or, to the Bangladeshis, the War that I deliver the list to a particular Bengali barrister in Lonter. My visitor had risked his life by preparing and delivering We spoke in hushed tones in a room at the rear of the hotel’s and Jill’s cotton shift and slacks. We convinced ourselves it ...

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8. Use Data to Set Policy

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pp. 51-68

Enlistment in the Epidemic Intelligence Service and my experience in Bangladesh transformed my interests and the trajectory of my career. Having experienced the thrill of discovery and the immense, immediate impact data could have on the health and well-being of whole populations...

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9. If You Think You’re Right, Keep Pushing

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pp. 69-74

I left Indonesia in 1979 with plans to launch a randomized trial to determine whether large doses of oral vitamin A given just twice a year could prevent blinding xerophthalmia among young children. If it could, the impact could be enormous. It would make a global blindness...

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10. Take the Long View

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pp. 75-80

Like most people who keep their nose to the grindstone, I had achieved a modest amount of attention within my limited circles. But I was also viewed as an epidemiological and ophthalmological iconoclast. Getting tagged as an iconoclast can be a double-edged sword; it allows people...

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pp. 81-83

I spend a good deal of my time these days informally mentoring those who drop by my office for advice. They may be entering students or a young professor or even a chair or dean. Their main question is nearly always the same: “What should I do with my life?” My answer is always the same: “What would you...

E-ISBN-13: 9781421409054
E-ISBN-10: 1421409054
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421409047
Print-ISBN-10: 1421409046

Page Count: 120
Illustrations: 12 halftones
Publication Year: 2013