The School of Public Health recently hired former Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees as a professor of the practice in the Department of Health Services, Policy and Practice, according to a Nov. 22 University press release.
Ira Wilson, chair of the department of health services, policy and practice, sees Rivkees’ hiring as aligned with the mission of the Dean of the School of Public Health Ashish Jha to explore pandemic preparedness. The SPH is creating a Pandemic Preparedness Center, according to the press release.
The SPH also hired two more scholars, Jennifer Nuzzo and Clare Wardle, to support Jha’s initiatives. Nuzzo comes from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, joining as a professor of the practice and leading the pandemic preparedness team while Wardle, founder of First Draft News, will be involved in another initiative at the SPH that investigates “mis/disinformation.”
Rivkees’ experience in “real-world pandemic response as a surgeon general in Florida,” among other qualities, makes him a valuable asset, Wilson said.
Wilson added that the SPH has been weak in the realm of “public health practice,” and he hopes that Rivkees’ hiring is one part of the remedy. Rivkees will aid in the SPH’s plan to create a larger public health “training institute that people from around the country can come to,” Wilson said. Rivkees additionally holds experience as a National Institutes of Health-funded pediatric endocrinologist.
As the Florida surgeon general, Rivkees was in charge of pandemic response in the third-most populous state in the United States. Wilson noted that Rivkees faced particular challenges working as a public health professional in a conservative state, where legislators have pushed back against mask mandates.
According to the release, Nuzzo began working in pandemic preparedness long before COVID-19. “A new Center for Pandemic Preparedness and Response can redefine preparedness in a way that captures the extraordinary lessons from COVID-19, as well as improve understanding of what it means to be ready for other not yet seen threats,” she said in the release.
Wardle brings her experience at First Draft News to Brown’s mis/disinformation campaign. “Truth, accuracy and the facts matter more than ever in our ever-changing, fast-paced world,” Wardle said in the press release. “I am committed to these values and I am excited to continue, and grow, this work with Dean Ashish Jha and the team at the School of Public Health.”
The SPH is undergoing a period of change, both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an overall expansion. “This is a dynamic time for the Brown University School of Public Health,” Jha said in the press release. “We are working on ensuring the strength of existing areas of focus and moving to advance new initiatives central to addressing urgent global challenges.”
Wilson agreed, explaining that the fields of pandemic preparedness and misinformation span various evolving disciplines within public health and adding that the spread of epidemics and vaccine misinformation should be explored from various perspectives.
“You need policy interventions, you need to understand the epidemiology. A lot of this is behavioral and social science,” he said. “And then, of course, you need statistics for all of these fields to be engaged in evaluation of initiatives.”
Public health more broadly, he added, is rapidly evolving. Considering the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson said he hopes the SPH continues pursuing Jha’s long-time focus on pandemic preparedness “so that next time something serious happens, we're ready.”