Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of disease or other health conditions in human populations. This definition or one of numerous variations is near and dear to many of us in this room. It is a definition I learned on the first day of Epidemiology class during my junior year in college, from my first Epidemiology professor Dr. Bill Jenkins. It was a day that changed my life forever. For you see, some professors teach lessons for a lecture or course. However, when Dr. Jenkins teaches Epidemiology, you learn lessons for a lifetime. That January afternoon in 1984, I learned that in Epidemiology, it is not important to always know all the right answers. (And I thought I was pretty smart). What IS important is asking the right questions. A lesson for a lifetime.
The Abraham Lilienfeld Award recognizes excellence in the teaching of epidemiology during the course of a career. Preference is given to nominees who teach in the classroom, are engaging lecturers, write clearly in the English language, and whose students have made worthwhile contributions to the improvement of public health.
The recipient of the Epidemiology Section’s 2009 Abraham Lilienfeld Award is Dr. Bill Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from Morehouse College, his Master of Science degree in biostatistics from Georgetown University, his Master of Public Health degree in Epidemiology and his doctoral degree in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed post-doctoral work in biostatistics at Harvard University. He worked as a statistician and epidemiologist for over 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the area of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV.
But more important than the education he has received is the education and training in Epidemiology and biostatistics that he has provided to numerous students, especially for African American and other minority students.
In 1983, Bill Jenkins started PROJECT: IMHOTEP, an 11-week summer program in biostatistics and epidemiology at CDC that provides classroom training in epidemiology and an applied epidemiology experience where students learn SAS, conduct an epidemiologic analysis with an existing data set, write a publishable epidemiologic manuscript, and give an oral presentation to a CDC audience. All of this is completed within 11 weeks. I still shudder when I think about the intense eleven weeks I spent as an IMHOTEP intern. By the way, my participation in PROJECT: IMHOTEP started at 8:00 in the morning on the DAY AFTER I graduated from college. In Dr. Jenkins words, graduation was not the time for a break…it was the beginning of important epidemiologic work to be done…and that we did. To date, 428 African American and other minority students have participated in IMHOTEP. Many of them return after the program to serve as preceptors for students, critique student papers, provide feedback on presentations or give encouragement to the students that though it is challenging, they will survive the summer. With the IMHOTEP program, Dr. Jenkins taught Epidemiology, but he also taught the importance of giving back and helping to train the next generation of public health professionals. Each one, teach one. Another lesson of a lifetime.
In 1988, Bill Jenkins led efforts for the development of a cooperative agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Morehouse College to establish the Public Health Sciences Institute. The purpose of this agreement was to increase the quality and quantity of well-trained minority public health scientists. The Public Health Sciences Institute includes public health courses, including epidemiology, year-long public health internships, and activities such as the Atlanta University Center Public Health Association, and the IMHOTEP summer program. Dr. Jenkins taught the epidemiology course for undergraduate students in the Atlanta University Center, including Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. This agreement and the monumental effort it took for implementation taught another life lesson… to find a way or MAKE a way.
Finally, in 1995, Dr. Bill Jenkins started the Master of Public Health program at Morehouse School of Medicine. This program emphasizes addressing the problems and finding solutions to the public health needs of underserved and minority communities, of people of color. Dr. Jenkins teaches epidemiology to graduate students and preventive medicine residents. But he also teaches the life lesson of the importance of including the community and cultural sensitivity when conducting epidemiologic studies and searching for solutions to eliminate health disparities. Having the relevant stakeholders at the table to provide input is VITAL to moving forward in efforts to address health disparities. To date, 154 graduates have matriculated through the MPH program.
Asking the right questions