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Meet 5 Inspiring People Changing the Face of Public Health

Public health officials save lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that fact has never been clearer. But what does it mean to work in public health, anyway?

There isn’t just one answer. According to the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), public health professionals:

  • Help design policies meant to slow disease spread
  • Coordinate distribution of medicines
  • Promote public education on health
  • Innovate in environmental health
  • Intervene during natural disasters 
  • Help solve health disparities
  • Advocate for curbing chronic illnesses

Need some examples of these movers and shakers? Look no further than this list of inspiring figures who have dedicated their lives to bettering public health.

1. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Chances are, you’ve seen Fauci on TV during President Donald Trump’s coronavirus press briefings. However, Fauci, 79, broke into public health long before the novel coronavirus began spreading. 

In fact, Fauci, who has been the director of the NIAID at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1984, has played a key role in fighting the AIDS epidemic throughout his career, not to mention malaria, tuberculosis, Zika, and Ebola. In addition, Fauci was a pioneer in the field of immunoregulation, which has informed scientists’ understanding of the human immune response. 

Before starting at the NIAID, Fauci, who grew up in Brooklyn, studied at Cornell Medical College, where he graduated at the top of his class. He completed his residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. 

2. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)

As the director-general of the WHO, Ghebreyesus leads the charge on the organization’s global efforts to promote public health, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the first individual from the WHO Africa region to hold the title, and has made it his mission to advance universal healthcare, promote children’s health, combat the health effects of environmental and climate change, and reduce health emergencies.

Before being elected to his position, he was Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and minister of health. He was also the chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Board, chair of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Board, and co-chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Board.

Ghebreyesus, who was born in Asmara, Eritrea, received his doctorate of philosophy in community health from the University of Nottingham and a master’s degree in immunology of infectious diseases from the University of London.

3. Dr. Jerome M. Adams, U.S. Surgeon General

As surgeon general, Adams has influenced key initiatives in the United States’ efforts to confront the opioid epidemic. He released the first Surgeon General Advisory in 13 years, in which he encouraged more Americans to carry the anti-overdose drug naloxone, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Adams has also prioritized promoting oral health and bridging the gaps between national security, economics, and community health.


Adams received bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley, and a medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine.

4. Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director, Pan American Health Organization 

As director of the PAHO, Etienne works to promote health in the Americas. Before being elected to the post in 2017, she was assistant director-general for Health Systems and Services at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and assistant director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau. 

Among her achievements at the PAHO, Etienne led the way in eradicating rubella, congenital rubella, and measles, becoming the first WHO region to do so. She also held several roles in public health in her home country Dominica.

Etienne received her medical degree from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and her master’s degree in community health in developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London.

5. Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Before he became director of the CDC and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Redfield, like Fauci, contributed to research on chronic viral infections in humans, including HIV. 

He also has contributed to HIV clinical care in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, where he was the chief of infectious diseases and vice chair of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. 

Redfield helped found the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology and has held titles at the CDC and NIH. He received his bachelor’s and medical degrees from Georgetown University. 

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