“This… is… Public Health” | #1

It’s been three weeks since the start of the Big Data Summer Institute in Biostatistics at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. Although, I’ve already spent three weeks with the Biostats faculty and my research cohort, I would like to recollect and share my first day’s experience:

Out of the 47 interns, only two raised their hands when Dr. Martin Philbert, the Dean of the School of Public Health, asked who knew what poliomyelitis or polio was. He then proceeded to explain the history of the disease and how it affected the day to day lives of Americans in the 1900s. About sixty years ago, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the United States of America. The summer was nicknamed to be “polio season”. Public pools were shut down, the government urged the public to avoid close contact with each other and insurance companies were even selling polio insurance.

“Out of forty seven, only two of you knew what polio was… “. At this point, I felt as if all forty seven of us were at a wrong and that we should’ve been more knowledgeable of polio. My hand was one of the two that was raised up in the air, but I still felt guilty for not knowing much about the disease. What he said next, however, was something I did not expect.

“This… is… public health.” With these four words, Dr. Philbert conveyed the message that public health is a field of study that pushes to improve the lives of every day citizens. Public health has succeeded in eliminating polio from the United States and the proof is that 45 out of the 47 undergraduates, who were all born in the 1990s didn’t know what polio was, a disease that paralyzed the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He then continued to talk a little bit more about Public Health and how the University of Michigan was a key research institute in eliminating the threat of polio.

His concluding remarks is what galvanized my hope of becoming a researcher in the filed of public health one day: “In the coming decades or so, I or someone else will ask the very same question but about Schizophrenia or HIV etc… and only two out of the 47 students will raise their hands… and YOU may be the reason for that”

“Welcome to the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan!”

It took just a matter of minutes, a few sentences, and a man with grey hair who apparently loves french fries to reassure my goal of becoming a researcher in the field of public health. And I really do hope that one day, I would be the reason a community of people, maybe even a nation would be able to live freely without worry of a life-altering or life-threatening disease.

Thank you for reading,
I hope this may spark an interest in some of you as well,
End of blog quote: “Sometimes I lay under the moon and thank God I’m breathing, then I pray don’t take me soon (be)cause I am here for a reason” – Matthew Paul Miller (Matisyahu)

*The quotes may not be exactly what Dr. Martin Philbert said, these are from my memory.

Tahmeed T

BS Candidate, Statistics '18, University of Michigan

2 thoughts on ““This… is… Public Health” | #1

  • June 29, 2017 at 3:32 am

    As someone who is interested in applying to the School of Public Health, I found this post very interesting. I especially loved the example with Dr. Philbert. I did not expect him to proceed with his polio statement the way he did and I think it proved a major point regarding the importance of public health and how so much can change in the span of a few decades. Looking forward to hearing more about your research experience this summer!


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