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Dean Jha named one of World’s 50 Greatest Leaders

Fortune Magazine commends Jha for effective, accessible communication of complex medical knowledge during pandemic

While an undergraduate at Columbia studying economics — long before he would be named one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine — Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health, was a pre-med student in part because his parents “really wanted” him to go to medical school. “You’re never supposed to tell (that to) anybody in medical school applications,” Jha said, laughing. 

But despite the initial feeling of obligation to parental expectations, Jha found a deep love for medicine and then public health while getting his MD at Harvard. “I feel like it’s been such a huge part of my identity,” Jha said. As a doctor, “you get these very concrete skills that you can use to alleviate suffering, to take people who are in pain, to take people who are going through a difficult time and to make that better,” he added.

Jha has been a cable news channel mainstay throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on helping viewers navigate the complex time by providing accessible commentary on the coronavirus and public health measures. He also maintained a popular Twitter account and a steady presence in prominent news media, both as a source and an author. In addition, Jha has been a guest on The Herald’s COVID Pod, and published a Jan. 28 op-ed in The Herald.

Jha uses his widespread presence across platforms to broaden his audience. “The people you reach through television are different than the people you reach through newspapers (who are) different from people you reach through social media,” he said. “If you want to communicate to a broad group of people, you've got to use multiple mediums.”

Fortune Magazine named him one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in May for his focus on providing “easy-to-understand analysis” about the pandemic through multiple mediums with a “healthy sprinkling of empathy.”

“There's a whole group of people working on this tirelessly, and it's really our collective effort that makes a difference,” Jha said when asked about the accolade. For Jha, the idea of one person getting the credit for work done by a team of experts has always seemed “odd.” 

“One of the things I love about being at Brown is its incredible community of scientists, advocates, and we all work together in what seems like a one-person show, (but) is really an entire team … working on all of these issues,” he added.

Having come to the University less than a year ago from Harvard, where he was the faculty director of its Global Health Institute, Jha has already begun to build a team around him to drive the COVID-19 response and the work of the Public Health school.

“He empowers others,” said Stefanie Friedhoff, senior director of content, strategy and public affairs and professor of the practice at the School of Public Health. He has the “ability to just bring really diverse voices to the table for a conversation focused on solving problems,” she added.

“He is a really great leader. He is both visionary, able to articulate where things should go and why, and he is someone who creates space for others to develop their own visions and strategies,” Megan Ranney MPH’10, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of strategy and innovation for the School of Public Health, said.

Ranney first met Jha around a year and a half ago, before he had come to Brown and when both were working on providing public health guidance at the start of the pandemic. Soon they were co-writing an article in the New England Journal of Medicine and appearing together on television. “(We) struck up a friendship,” Ranney said. “It was neat to be on (television) with another person who was intelligent and interesting and well spoken.”

Now together at the School of Public Health, Ranney has found working alongside Jha a “terrific” experience. “The two of us are strongly aligned in the importance of the research and education and scholarship that we do,” she added. “I feel very, very lucky to have him here … it's just such a delight to get to work with him.”

Despite Jha’s position as a leader in the public health field and his frequent appearances on television, he says he has shared the anxieties felt by many people throughout the pandemic. “On a personal level,” he said, there has been “a lot of uncertainty, concern about making sure that my family is safe — my immediate family, of course, my spouse and kids, but also my elderly parents and other friends and family.”

But he has been nonetheless driven by a sense that everything he has done in the past year and a half is “part of (his) job to communicate to people about what is happening with this disease and the pandemic.”

“I think there’s a recognition that we as a society really are all in this together,” Jha said. There is an understanding “that everybody's fate is tied to everybody else's,” he added. A “recognition of our common humanity, not just within our country, but globally.”



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