Resolutions for a Healthier World | Dean's Note

We have reached the end of another year. It is a time for taking stock, for looking back on the world in 2018 and our school’s place in it. At the school, we have had a full year indeed, giving us much on which to reflect. From our community events, to our activism on issues like gun violence and transgender rights, to our scholarship on everything from e-cigarettes to maternal mortality, we have been deeply engaged in the mission of promoting health. At the heart of this mission is our core purpose, “Think. Teach. Do. For the health of all.” We aspire to generate cutting-edge scholarship, to innovate in education, and to engage with social movements and the broader health conversation. We see this as core to achieving our goal of a healthier world. As we look to continue this mission in 2019, I would like to suggest three resolutions—each reflecting a pillar of “Think. Teach. Do.”—to help us promote health in the coming year.

Resolution 1. Build the case for health (Think). We all wish to be healthy. It would be easy to feel that no other argument is needed for the policies and institutions that promote health, other than to say they will make us safer and less sick. Yet experience shows us this is not the case. Entrenched cultural and political resistance to everything from universal health care to commonsense gun safety reform has made it necessary to truly make a case for health, one built on a solid foundation of data. And we need to continue to provide the data that make a compelling case for how we can promote health. For example, our researchers found a link between more permissive gun laws and higher gun homicide rates. This means that when policymakers make choices about whether or not to support such laws, they are also making choices about how many people are likely to be shot and killed in their communities. We have a fundamental obligation to use our data to bear witness to the conditions that create health—or that take away from health. And that makes it, to my mind, worth resolving to double down on a science of consequence, using data with purpose, towards creating evidence that can nudge us towards a healthier world.

Resolution 2. Create a movement for health (Teach). Health is about more than this moment. Recent years have shed light on the conditions that undermine health in this country. Even as I have written frequently about the challenges posed to health by this administration, at core, this moment has exposed challenges that were decades—even generations—in the making. Solving them will take a long-term effort. And that effort shall cross generations. It is to this end that the school’s “teach” mission aspires. We are teaching the next generation of students who will lead the charge on generating health. We are already beginning to see a shift in the public conversation as a new generation takes over around core public health issues, such as climate change and gun violence. While these have long been two of the most significant health threats we face as a country, the shift in the public conversation has taken hold only in recent years as a new generation has come of age. This shift in the conversation has sparked powerful movements—from the Sunrise Movement to March for Our Lives—that are starting to make political inroads towards solving these problems. I would argue that this is just the beginning of what can be achieved when people understand they are not simply fighting for isolated causes, or on behalf of political parties, but for health itself. Our work will have the deepest impact when we suitably prepare the next generation to take it forward, to become ever better at doing the work of population health. Resolving to do ever more on this front, to redouble our efforts to train the next generation, seems to me well worth looking ahead to a new year for.

Resolution 3. Stand with the marginalized (Do). The health of the many depends on the health of the few. Caring for vulnerable, underserved populations has long been core to public health. And yet it is all too often so easy to forget groups with voices that are seldom heard. It is the role of all of us in public health to amplify the voices of the marginalized, standing in solidarity with the populations we serve, being a part of the doing that is a pillar of our core purpose. This means having the humility to sometimes step back from what we think we know and open ourselves to the experience of others, recognizing that the best way of learning may be listening, with empathy. And it means resolving ever more not to forget our mission, to use the academy to elevate those who do not have a platform, through our scholarship and our action.

2018 was a year of challenge and change for health. As the health conversation has shifted, a concern for health care has broadened into a concern for health and the conditions that shape it. Moving into 2019, we have a chance to inform these shifts and build on the progress we have seen, guided always by our core values. I look forward to continuing, as a school community, our pursuit of a healthier world in the coming year. As we close out the year, this SPH This Week samples from other SPH This Weeks throughout the year, reminding us of work we did during 2018, looking ahead to 2019.

My very best wishes to all for the new year. Until 2019.

Warm regards,


Acknowledgement. I would like to acknowledge the help of Laura Sampson and Eric DelGizzowith this Dean’s Note.