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After Words: A Great Journey

By Brian W. Simpson, MPH ’13

One evening in late March 2009, I started on a journey.

That evening, I listened to my first lecture in a graduate public health course, Public Health Biology. David Sullivan, an associate professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, and guest lecturers led the class through a fascinating tour of bacteria, viruses and parasites, and their pernicious effects on human health.

I was hooked. I took more courses as a nondegree-seeking student, then as part of a certificate program. Environmental health. Biostats. Epi. Health and human rights. Human physiology. (Sweat literally beaded on my forehead when I saw the final exam’s first question.) Then I was accepted to the part-time MPH program. I loved the intensive problem-solving course that MPH students start with—a kind of public health boot camp.

Each course, led by the Bloomberg School’s terrific faculty, enthralled me and helped me in my goal of mastering the fundamentals of public health. As part of my MPH capstone, I worked with colleagues to interview Frederick, Maryland, residents and public health experts about a cancer cluster investigation there. (You may have read our article in the special 2013 issue on death, “It Would Break Your Heart.”)

The MPH was one of the most rewarding challenges of my life. I spent a lot of hours at home hunkered over my laptop, reading, studying and participating in online “live talks” for courses. My wife and kids patiently respected Dad’s study times on weekends and weekday evenings. I won’t kid you, it was hard—especially for a former journalism and English major more familiar with Tom Wolfe and Wallace Stevens than John Snow and Sir Richard Doll—but I savored the bracing intellectual challenge.

On May 21, 2013, I found myself in Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for the School’s convocation. (In front of me sat Varsha Ramakrishnan, our inaugural Johns Hopkins-Pulitzer Center Global Health Reporting Fellow. She wrote the remarkable story about dowry violence in India.)

On that day last May, 535 very happy people walked the stage and graduated from the School. I’ll always be proud that I was one of them. When Dean Klag shook my hand and gave me my diploma, I knew a great journey was both ending and beginning.