During this crisis, there are emerging Public Health Heroes. First, what is Public Health? A definition I learned when I was at the Harvard School of Public Health at age 53 was that Public Health is “the constant redefining of the unacceptable.” Always trying to improve our life expectancy.

Here are my heroes. Who are yours? We all have them and perhaps a rephrasing is – who do you respect and why? While your kids are at home, this is an opportunity to tell stories about family, friends, and well-known people. My medical heroes are all epidemiologists – the very people we rely on for accurate information about COVID-19 (and have relied on for two centuries). They are on your TV every day and I had the honor and privilege to be a student to some of them. They are medical detectives, like CSI. Perhaps read the linked Wikipedia biographies to your kids to teach them about these incredible people:

– Florence Nightingale “The Lady with the Data”: The founder of modern nursing and one of the first medical epidemiologists; I believe that Nightingale’s legacy should also consider her the “Mother of Epidemiology.” Her practices around cleanliness and sanitation in hospitals saved countless lives in a time when we did not know bacteria and viruses existed.

– John Snow “Father of Epidemiology”: No, not the Game of Thrones fan favorite. The real Snow saved lives during the London cholera epidemic, like with Nightingale, in a time when bacteria and viruses were not yet known to exist. Snow systematically mapped where the unknown deadly disease originated from and traced it to a single water pump. The water pump was located in an area where it was the main drinking water source. Snow removed the water pump handle and miraculously the death stopped. I was fortunate enough to visit the very spot of the infamous water pump in London while my daughter was studying there. We both had diet cokes in Snow’s honor at the adjacent John Snow Pub. 

– Geoffrey Rose: A professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has developed interventions to prevent chronic diseases. Stating that small interventions in large low-risk populations are more effective in preventing and controlling chronic diseases than larger intervention on smaller high-risk populations. For example, if you reduce the sodium content in a large population by 2 mg in their diet there is a 17% reduction in strokes. My daughter got her Master’s degree in Global Mental Health from the LSHTM!

– Dr. Paul Farmer: An anthropologist, epidemiologist, and infectious disease doctor at Harvard Medical School, Farmer is a modern-day hero of mine. From the slums of Lima, Peru to the epidemics in Russia’s overcrowded prisons, he has worked to eradicate multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. He also played a critical role in Sub-Saharan Africa working to reduce the price of HIV medicines. He developed clinics in Liberia to assist in the eradication of Ebola and helped develop Rwandan hospitals to deliver chemotherapy to poor cancer patients. Farmer also collaborated with the Haitian government to build a health system, treat HIV patients, and assist the recent cholera epidemic. I had the honor of being a student in one of his classes and having him consult on a project when my family was involved in the building of a clinic and a child nutrition program in the Central Plateau region in Haiti. You can read more about Dr. Farmer in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains

– Dr. Andrew Fauci: The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Immunology for the U.S. Government. He is 79 years old and has served in this position since President Reagan. He is the calming voice of reason and expert on the coronavirus. This former marathon runner applies that mentality into our current crisis, working up to 20 hours a day to ensure we end this crisis as quickly as possible! 

Please talk to your kids; let them know about these heroes of science and medicine that have and are doing so much for humankind! #CelebrateSTEM! 

I hope you are all hanging in there with the current crisis. We are working hard to ensure all our patients are properly cared for. 

Dr. Hartman