portrait of dean klag

Open Mike: The Finale

A Note from Dean Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87

At every orientation since 2005, I promised entering students that their time at the Bloomberg School would be a transformational experience, one that would change the way that they see the world and give them a tool kit to solve big problems. Experiencing the curriculum and interacting with our faculty will, I know, open their eyes to the social determinants of health, the science of prevention, the fundamental principles of measuring the health of populations and the power of research and evidence-based interventions to improve the human condition—just as it did for me as a student.

What I haven’t talked about is my own transformation, how being dean of the Bloomberg School has inspired and pushed me to grow in ways that I could not have anticipated.

During the last 12 years, I have been exposed to a range of activities that few, if any, other institutions can match, to the broad expertise of our faculty and their passion for and commitment to discovering new knowledge—whether in the field, the clinic or the lab. I have been and continue to be inspired by students who are dedicated to making the world a better place and then, as alumni, do exactly that. As I often say, these interactions make me feel good about the future of the human race. It has been an education that I wish could be available to everyone!

As an institution committed to population-based studies and community interventions with funded projects in Baltimore, the state of Maryland and over 130 countries, the Bloomberg School conducts much of its work outside the walls of our buildings. To understand the School, I firmly believe that one must get out of the office to see what we do. My first trip to Africa presaged future experiences in low-resource settings: travel for two days on rough roads, followed by dirt roads and then arrival at a small village with little goats bleating everywhere and children peeking shyly from around thatched huts. Just when you think that you could not be in a more remote location you see a Bloomberg School study team meeting with villagers under a tree, combining education with data collection. When they recognize that you are part of Hopkins, the community welcomes you warmly. We are not a service organization like CARE or Save the Children, but the community benefit that spills over from long-term collaborative projects is substantial. When I visited Nepal last month, for example, women told me how employment and training in community-based research had changed their lives, empowered them to take on community leadership roles and improved the health of their families. To carry out our work, we often partner with local NGOs, strengthening them, or even help found new ones and, by doing so, strengthen civil society. I have heard the same story in Bangladesh, Peru, Ethiopia and elsewhere.

In countries where we have had a presence for decades, the depth and breadth of relationships—from local communities to national policymakers—and accumulated trust is simply amazing. In Baltimore, I am proud of the close collaboration with the Baltimore City Health Department and partnership with Health Commissioner Leana Wen and her predecessors.

What I have witnessed inside the walls of the School has been equally life-changing. I have learned so much from symposia we’ve hosted in response to critical public health issues like pandemic influenza, gun violence, Ebola and measles. To contribute to the global discussion in real time, we often conceptualized and organized these symposia within a week. A series of invited presentations on Syria, most recently one given by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, were sobering and brought a searing reality to the discussions of the greatest displacement of human populations since World War II. Dean’s Lectures have honored faculty who have been promoted to professor and showcased the impact of their work. In fact, there are so many activities at our School that it is impossible to take advantage of them all. Once I step down as dean, I look forward to attending even more such activities.

Early in this job, I learned that people who care about and support public health are motivated by altruism and a desire to help others. That is especially true of the man whose name we carry, Michael R. Bloomberg, a public health hero. His support has been inspiring and unwavering. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a strong partner and friend. Their actions live up to the Foundation’s vision that “all lives have equal value.” Sid and Helaine Lerner have persuaded our School to work in new and important directions to address issues related to animal testing, the food system and health promotion. They and others—in particular, our Health Advisory Board members—have been with us every step of the way in advancing our mission.

As my tenure ends, I am filled with gratitude to the faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors who make the Bloomberg School the institution that it is and who have taught me so much. Working with great people—especially the outstanding and committed group of department chairs and associate deans—has been the most memorable part of being dean. They will help lead the School into an even brighter future.

It is up to others to decide how and whether my tenure transformed the School, but there’s no question in my mind how much the School has transformed me. Thank you all for a great 12 years!