Distinguished Professor of Practice in Health Sciences John Auerbach is on a two-year academic leave to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here, he discusses how his initial interest in public health has led him to CDC and how he plans to bring his wealth of knowledge into the classroom when he returns to Northeastern in September 2016.
Q: What got you into public health?
A: In the 1980s I was living in Uphams Corner, Dorchester, Mass., and concerned about the health of the residents of the community. There were few health resources for my low income, multi-cultural neighborhood. The relatively small local community health center was doing noble work to meet the needs. I joined the board, soon began working at the center and within a year I was running the Women, Infant and Children’s Program. Inspired by the dedication and skill of the remarkable staff and board, I was determined to make public health – with a focus on the populations at disproportionate risk – my life’s work.
Q: How did you become involved with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?
A: I have known the CDC’s director, Tom Frieden, from the days when he was the New York City health commissioner and I was the Boston health commissioner. A number of the policies we enacted in Boston – related to such topics as tobacco control and combating obesity – were informed by his work in New York. I have always been an admirer of his vision, leadership and effectiveness. While I was at Northeastern I was involved in a number of research projects for the CDC, some of which focused on the health impact of health care reform. This work brought me back in touch with Dr. Frieden. At the time he was looking for a policy director.
Q: Tell us about your work at CDC?
A: I oversee the central policy office at CDC. This links me to the work being done throughout the agency (with its 100 programs and 15,000 employees and contractors). A major focus of the work in our office is on one of CDC’s strategic directions – linking the public health and health care sectors. As such I collaborate with such external partners as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, commercial payers, large health care systems and public health officials throughout the nation. We currently are engaged in a campaign to promote the incorporation of prevention and population health services into routine health care delivery.
Q: How will you bring the tremendous experience and knowledge you have acquired working at CDC into the classroom?
A: Students are interested in understanding the tremendous changes that are occurring at this sentinel moment in health care in the US. I will share some of the key laws, policies and illustrative examples of these changes in access to care, health care payment systems and delivery care models. This year I have done a fair amount of writing and research, which I hope the students will find illuminating.