Every four months we pause from conversations with public health leaders to reflect on lessons learned from their varied careers, and insights into persistent and emerging public health challenges.
We are Public Health has been honored to feature conversations with several groundbreaking, widely respected pioneers in the field. The last three volumes highlighted Dr. Len Syme, father of social epidemiology, and Dr. Jack Geiger, a pioneer of the community health center movement in the US. As Dr. Geiger acknowledged in his interview, “we all stand on the shoulders of others.” The ripple effect of their unique contributions to our field is evident in the work of other featured practitioners such as Jim Bloyd, Dr. Sandra Witt and Dr. Bob Prentice, who are all working to operationalize Dr. Syme’s and others’ social determinants of health framework in communities and within government institutions. Similarly, we see Dr. Geiger’s strategy of engaging, organizing and empowering community members to create their own solutions and successfully address public health challenges reflected in Emma Rodgers’ coalition-driven work in the Bronx, Laura Sanders’ advocacy for immigrants’ rights in Southeastern Michigan, Arnell Hinkle’s efforts to create youth-led and culturally appropriate nutrition and physical activity resources, Dr. Joe Zanoni’s work to improve the health and safety of immigrant day laborers, and finally in Dr. Joseph West’s community research on diabetes in Chicago’s North Lawndale network.
Drs. Syme and Geiger’s legacies extend beyond these amazing public health workers who continue to “stand on their shoulders”. Their impact is also evident in current public health work and policies. These days, it is rare for public health students to graduate from any school of public health without a working knowledge of the social determinants of health. In the field, the determinants are widely considered just as critical to supporting and improving the health of communities and reducing health inequities as the delivery of clinical services. Additionally, community health centers are rapidly becoming the go-to places for many Americans to seek health care and community resources. In the age of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, these centers play a central role as the medical homes of low-income residents across the nation, and a growing number are finding creative ways to integrate the social determinants into primary care.
When we started this website we hoped that we would be able to feature public health’s well respected and renown pioneers. We are delighted to also see the connections between their groundbreaking work, and the current efforts of a diverse set of public health practitioners. It is truly inspiring to witness the evolution of their audacious visions.
We are so excited about where the next three volumes will take us! We look forward to reflecting on more trends in these public health histories.