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The Ultimate Midterm

By Susan Muaddi Darrajan

In early October, John Agwunobi, MD, MBA, a student in the School's Web-based MPH (iMPH) program, e-mailed his professors to request a slight extension on a midterm examination. Considering that he had been newly appointed as the secretary of health for the state of Florida — and was busy forming a health response to the nation's first anthrax case since 1974, Agwunobi's request was granted.

Florida's acting secretary of health since Sept. 1, Agwunobi spent his first official day as secretary on Oct. 4, which was his birthday as well. It was also the day he received a call about a "suspicious" case involving Robert Stevens, a photo editor at a Florida tabloid. Stevens eventually died as a result of inhalation anthrax, which catapulted the nation into a frenzy of concern about bioterrorism. 

In the midst of organizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teams and collaborating with federal health officials, Agwunobi has had to keep up with schoolwork. "My classes keep me up most nights, studying and reading," he says, "but I'm determined to finish my degree, despite these challenges, because it's so important — more than ever — to have the formal tools of public health.

"Public health training gives me a whole new perspective on analysis and problem solving, which is essential in my role here at the health department," Agwunobi says. "Many of the principles I'm currently studying, I'm using every day."