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75 LESSON 10 TAKE THE LONG VIEW The major factors that brought health to mankind were epidemiology , sanitation, vaccination, refrigeration, and screened windows. richard d. lamm 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 to dismiss your perspectives, but it also attracts people who feel that a different perspective might be exactly what’s needed. How else to explain my being tapped, in 1990, to be dean of the Johns Hopkins (now Bloomberg) School of Public Health? Definitely an unusual job for an ophthalmologist. One Johns Hopkins University trustee (who did not know me) was heard to moan to another, “An ophthalmologist as dean of public health? Couldn’t they find anyone better?” Shortly after ascending to this administrative position, I unintentionally rattled my new colleagues, fellow deans on the board of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH). Their twice-a-year meetings were extremely formal affairs, with the deans of the then twenty-two accredited 76 TEN LESSONS IN PUBLIC HEALTH schools of public health (at the time, only American schools) sitting around a large table listening to rather boring, longwinded committee reports. Their associate deans sat behind them, and their flag bearers, still farther behind. A miniUN in appearance and tone, this assembly accomplished nothing of importance, as far as I could tell. I also sensed considerable tension between a number of the deans, who seemed to consider one another as competitors, or worse. To me, the greater purpose of public health was taking a back seat to formality, personalities, estrangement, and turf. Also, these meetings weren’t much fun! Not only did these ritualistic meetings serve little discernible purpose, but they were held in the most depressing venues—often seedy downtown hotels. I have long believed that, to a reasonable point, people feel only as good as their surroundings; if these meetings were to become more effective , we needed to change both their organization and their venue. I suggested we try something different. How about a three-day, informal retreat in a nice setting, off-season and some place not too costly (we were, after all, public health people, not Park Avenue clinicians). Let’s bring our spouses and partners and get to know one another, as fellow deans swimming in the same pool and beset by the same problems. Someone, to my surprise, exclaimed, “That’s a brilliant idea.” I remember remarking to a colleague nearby, “If an informal retreat in a pleasant setting is a ‘brilliant idea,’ public health is in even worse shape than I had thought.” The first retreat, held off-season at Rosario in the San Juan Islands, proved immensely productive and enjoyable. The deans came to better know one another; they shared frustrations and helpful suggestions and planned a pallet of future initiatives. This now-annual event has deans enthusi- TAKE THE LONG VIEW 77 astically tackling the needs of public health and seeing their schools as part of a larger purpose. I also noted that ASPH had been in the habit of adopting every worthy cause that came its way, from increasing NIH funding to more equitable access to health care for the poor. The intent was noble, but the “embrace everything worthy” approach was not helping anyone. ASPH is a small organization with a tiny budget. I thought we would do better to focus on those issues most critical to making our schools more effective and should choose those causes unlikely to be championed by larger and more powerful institutions. Supporting increased NIH funding was important, but we could add little to the powerful and diverse constituency already beating that drum. I suggested that we hire a professional lobbyist, to better guide our efforts. The immediate response was that “public health doesn’t get in bed with lobbyists!” So I decided that the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health would hire a lobbyist. Robert C. Embry, the insightful president of the Baltimorebased Abell Foundation, agreed to pay the costs of the lobbyist when I assured him that the efforts would strengthen the school and public health in Baltimore. The outcome was remarkably successful. People soon noticed that influencing legislation could truly make a university more effective. In time, the deans on the ASPH board changed their minds, so...


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MARC Record
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