The University of Maryland (UMD) School of Public Health was proud to welcome Maryland Health Secretary, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, as its commencement speaker on May 22.
[Photo: Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein and Dean Jane E. Clark ]
Public health is ultimately about helping people live well, Dr. Sharfstein told the nearly 600 graduates, urging them to stay enthusiastic about public health in the face of cynicism and indifference.
“The premise of public health is that the well-being of individuals, families, and communities has fundamental moral value,” said Dr. Sharfstein, Maryland’s top health official and chairman of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Board. “When people are healthy … they get to live their lives.”
Dr. Sharfstein reminded graduates that the School of Public Health has taught them “to measure health, identify disparities, and — most importantly — design and implement solutions.” He listed several opportunities for progress, such as advancing tobacco control, improving access to life-saving health coverage, helping the health care system control costs, and enhancing neighborhood access to healthy food and places to exercise. After describing a few public health victories he helped achieve in spite of doubt and criticism, he noted the importance of spending months to review evidence and build support. “There are no shortcuts to good policy,” Dr. Sharfstein said, “but there is also no need to give in to cynicism.”
Dr. Sharfstein previously served as the principal deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2009-11), the agency’s second highest-ranking position, and the Baltimore City Health Commissioner (2005-9). He also served on the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee and as health policy adviser to Congressman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA).
Through his various positions in health policy, Dr. Sharfstein has a reputation for pursuing creative solutions to challenging public health problems including drug addiction, school failure, unsafe consumer products, and tobacco products marketed to youth.
During the ceremony, the UMD School of Public Health also presented its highest honor, the Dean’s Medal, to Dr. Carlessia Hussein, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Dr. Hussein has helped build an infrastructure in Maryland to address issues of minority health and health disparities and has partnered with the School of Public Health to advance health equity in the state.