Though I officially finished my Masters of Public Health (MPH) coursework back in December and was awarded the degree in January, the whole class of 2010 has one commencement ceremony in May. Considering the fact that I have no idea when I’ll have another opportunity to wear a bright red choir-robe-type-thing, black mortarboard, and pale salmon hood, I figured it was worth heading back to Boston for the weekend. And of course, seeing friends and having family there were the real reason it was a wonderful experience.
One thing has stuck with me from the ceremony, and that is our Dean of Practice Harold Cox’s “Call to Service”. He’s an amazing speaker, and always has a charisma and presence that inspires and astounds simultaneously. His closing speech welcomed us to the world of professional public health practice, and encouraged us to never stop asking questions, and improving ourselves, just as many other commencement speakers have in the past.
In speaking about public health as a discipline, he conceptualized what we all aim to do in a perfect way, saying, “Public health is the disease that doesn’t happen, or the expensive treatment never needed.” His sentiments summarized what we do (which can be quite difficult to explain at times) so precisely, succinctly, and (in a round about way) in such a way that it applied across disciplines, concentrations, and classrooms. Whether crafting sound public health policy, providing vaccinations at a road-side clinic in Africa, or performing data analysis in the Framingham Heart Study, we all want to have a positive impact of the health of other in our local, national, and international communities.
His sentiments sent my mind back to a memory I have, standing in my undergrad advisor’s office, explaining why I don’t want to pursue medical school (as I’d always thought I would) and instead wanted to go get my MPH and work overseas. His response? My wonderful, pre-med advisor looked at me and said (here I paraphrase – my memory isn’t that perfect): “That sounds wonderful: we need smart people on both sides. Doctors can help the patients that come through their doors each day, and improve their health, but in public health you can improve the health of an entire community, and that’s pretty wonderful.” And more than three years after that conversation, I still agree with him, and think that IS pretty wonderful.