Thursday, Mar 29, 2018
by Kishan Bhatt ’17 *21

It’s not every day the nation’s doctor stops by campus for a visit.

During a trip through the Garden State, Jerome Adams, the 20th and current Surgeon General of the United States, spoke with a group of University students and faculty on a wide range of topics in public health, including insurance coverage, disease prevention, and precision medicine. It was one of CHW’s most anticipated events of the semester, as all spots filled within minutes of the sign-up sheet going live.

The surgeon general said he wanted to make the stop in Princeton to speak with undergraduates, graduates, and faculty because of the energy and creativity they bring to the public health arena. For the students, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn how principles from the classroom and laboratory help to inform public health decision-making at the highest levels.

In his remarks, Dr. Adams, an anesthesiologist, cited communication and community engagement as two pillars of effective public health leadership. In response to a sudden surge in drug-related HIV infections during his tenure as Indiana’s State Health Commissioner from 2014 to 2017, Dr. Adams partnered with local law enforcement, businesses, and faith leaders. This new alliance among public health and non-health related actors proved crucial in achieving community support for a syringe exchange program that ultimately reduced HIV rates. The success also inspired Dr. Adams’ current motto as Surgeon General: “Better Health through Better Partnerships”.

And while much of the conversation centered around the importance of these civil society partnerships in combating domestic challenges including opioid addiction and gun violence, the group also discussed health issues facing the international community. Several seniors in the global health program shared their research on nutrition programs, disease modeling, and antimicrobial resistance, leaving the Surgeon General impressed and optimistic about the next generation of public health leaders.

Dr. Adams concluded by reflecting on what he described as his own improbable journey from growing up in a small town in southern Maryland to leading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. For students unsure of their next steps, it was a reassuring message that there are many ways to impact public health, and a constellation of opportunities await.

This dinner conversation took place in Prospect House, courtesy of Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing. Many thanks to Dr. Adams and his team, as well as to the students and faculty in attendance, for a lively and informative conversation!