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Setting the Pace for Public Health

Lynn Goldman Appointed New Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health (formerly the GW School of Public Health and Health Services)

You won’t find Lynn Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., stuck in a rut. The self-proclaimed adventurer has blazed an indomitable and vibrant career path, serving in such positions as pediatrician, epidemiologist, professor, investigator, and government appointee. Countless people and places have reaped the benefits of her broad work in environmental health practice and chemical regulatory policy — efforts that were recently recognized with a prestigious award from the Heinz Family Foundation. 

Goldman has a simple explanation for a career that is as varied as it is venerated: “I like new challenges,” she says. “I haven’t done the same type of thing my whole life because I like to make an impact in a lot of ways.”

 In August 2010, Goldman took on her newest challenge when she was appointed as the third dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health (formerly the GW School of Public Health and Health Services). The school — which boasts seven departments, has one of the fastest-growing research portfolios of any school
of public health in the nation, and is developing plans for a new state-of-the-art building — has an exhilarating trajectory of change that keeps pace with Goldman’s own.

“One of the exciting things about MISPH is that it’s still growing and developing,” she says. “I am excited to build upon the good work that has been done so far, most recently under the leadership of my colleague, Josef Reum, who served with such distinction and passion as interim dean for the last two years. It’s part of what convinced me to come here.” Reum, Ph.D., is a professor of Health Policy and of Health Services Management and Leadership at the school and now serves as senior associate dean.

In Goldman, GW has found exactly what it needed: a dynamic individual who could bring multifaceted experience to the post. “With her breadth of experience in the fields of children’s environmental health, public health practice, and chemical regulatory policy, as well as her distinguished career in government, Lynn Goldman is ideally suited to lead our rapidly emerging School of Public Health and Health Services,” said GW President Steven Knapp, in announcing Goldman’s appointment.

Goldman launched her public health career in 1981, when the general belief was that low-level exposure to environmental contaminants wasn’t harmful. Residents of now-infamous Love Canal in Niagara Falls, N.Y., for example, were told by government officials that the nearby hazardous waste site would not induce any adverse health effects. But during a research fellowship at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif. — where she investigated the health impacts of toxic chemical exposure on children living near Love Canal — Goldman contributed to early findings linking birth and growth problems to the site itself.

The results, which later became the subject of international attention and controversy, shifted both general beliefs about public health and the scope of Goldman’s career. She decided to dedicate herself to fighting for the underdog. “When public health issues affect small groups of people, rather than the general public, those groups can be marginalized,” she explains. “In the U.S., our biggest challenges are the inequities in health status.”

Goldman followed that experience with a position as an epidemiologist at California’s state health department, where she found she had a strong interest in children’s health. There, she established a blood-lead surveillance system, laying the groundwork for California’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Goldman to serve as assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, where she guided the agency’s expansion of “right to know” laws under the Toxics Release Inventory program and overhauled the nation’s pesticide laws. Later, she helped advance the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, the first law explicitly requiring measures to protect children from lead poisoning and pesticides.

Goldman joined the faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 1999 with the primary intention of pursuing her own research. While leading investigations on children’s health and emergency response, however, she discovered a passion for academics. So when it came time for the next step in her career, Goldman found that GW — a university with a strong reputation for policy work — was an ideal fit. “Here at GW, and in the nation’s capital, you can play a very powerful role in policymaking,” she says.

In her new post as dean, Goldman will use her passion for public health, education, and policy-shaping to guide her decisions. She hopes to build upon the MISPH’s rising research portfolio in areas such as HIV/AIDS, environmental health, and health policy.  Fostering strong relationships and collaborations between departments and with federal and international organizations is another goal. 

In addition, Goldman will oversee another significant change at the MISPH: the development of a new building (see below). The sustainably designed research and educational facility will, for the first time, provide a central home for the MISPH, facilitating greater collaboration among faculty, students, and staff. “The new building is a vital part of the school’s future,” she emphasizes. “The physical space will give us an identity and make it possible for us to become an even greater, more influential institution in the decades to come.”

Key to that identity, says Goldman, is blazing a continuous path of learning and imbuing wisdom in future generations. “We need to teach the skills that will enable our students to acquire more knowledge over time,” she says. “Learning is a lifetime experience.”