Geof Swain, MD, MPH [Preceptor and Co-Founder]

Geof has been involved in the Fellowship since the first call for potential placement sites came out. In his view, the Fellowship program is an excellent example of the commitment of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UW SMPH) to community-academic partnerships that strengthen the public health workforce, help eliminate health disparities, and improve the health of Wisconsin communities (not to mention effectively develop the future public health workforce). He considers this program to be one of the finest examples of true partnerships between the University and the people of Wisconsin, in the fine tradition of the Wisconsin Idea.

What are a few highlights of your background in public health?
I trained as a family physician, but have been involved in governmental public health practice since late 1993, and completed my MPH in Health Services Administration in 2003. I am an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Population Health Sciences at the UW SMPH, and currently serve as Chief Medical Officer for the City of Milwaukee Health Department (MHD), Center Scientist for the Center for Urban Population Health, Interim Director of the Wisconsin Center for Health Equity, Adjunct Associate Professor of the UW-Milwaukee School of Public Health, Affiliate Faculty for the UW-LaCrosse MPH program, Steering Committee member for the UW-Madison MPH Program, the National Social Justice Workgroup of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), and Vice President of the Wisconsin Public Health Association (WPHA). I recently was awarded WPHA’s Presidential Citation for contributions to WHPA and to public health in the state.

What are your main areas of interest within public health?
I began my 17 year tenure at MHD with a focus on communicable diseases (especially STDs), immunization programs, and occupational health. More recently my focus has broadened to include birth outcomes, emergency and outbreak response, and public health education / workforce development (including the UW-Madison MPH program, Fellowship program, and transformation of the UW SMPH to an integrated school of medicine and public health). But if I were to pick just one single area of interest, it is in addressing the social and economic determinants of health, and preparing the future public health workforce to do so.

What is one project you are working on right now that you are really excited about? 
I am extremely excited about the Wisconsin Center for Health Equity. Founded at MHD, the WCHE – now a partnership between MHD and WPHA – aims to create a society where everyone has an equal chance to be healthy by: a) educating policymakers, health professionals, and the general public about the links between social determinants of health (SDoH) and health outcomes; b) working with policymakers to influence policies that affect the SDoH; and c) working in communities to increase community civic capacity to affect social and economic policy. The WCHE also works with partner organizations to help strengthen their respective efforts to address poverty, unemployment, low educational attainment, and related SDoH. In my view, this is the last, most important frontier for public health; if we can make progress in these areas we can potentially reduce health disparities to residual levels, but if we keep doing only what we’ve been doing we will keep getting the unacceptable results we’ve been getting.

Do you have any advice for those interested in the Fellowship?
One word: APPLY!

Do you have a public health role model/hero? 
It’s hard to pick just one. For this purpose, I’ll go with Joycelyn Elders, the first African-American US Surgeon General, because, whether you agree with her positions or not, it’s clear that she was not afraid to stand by her personal and professional convictions about what was right in public health, even at the risk of her job. See for more details.

Who is one of the coolest public health people you’ve met?
Geez – they’re almost all cool! That’s one of the many great things about working in public health – you get to work with so very many really cool people. Honestly, I’ve felt this way since my very first day in Public Health 17 years ago.

What is one public health-related activity in your community that you are proud about?
Again, there are so many examples to choose from. I am proud that the Milwaukee Health Department is so great at emergency response - - whether it was the first outbreak ever in history of Monkeypox in the Western Hemisphere, or one of the first to link an E Coli 0157H7 outbreak to spinach, or our remarkably effective response to pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza, there are many examples of MHD stepping up and meeting urgent challenges. More broadly, I am proud of the Milwaukee community for collectively addressing teen pregnancy (under the leadership of the United Way), for implementing a comprehensive sex-education curriculum (under the leadership of the Milwaukee Public Schools), and for coming together to address various drivers of infant mortality and other poor birth outcomes (under a variety of leaders).

What is one public health achievement you think will happen in the next 25 years? What is one you would like to see in the next 25 years?
In 25 years, nobody will think that healthcare is the main driver of health, and nobody will credibly question the causal link between social determinants of health (SDoH) “upstream” and health outcomes “downstream.” Further, 25 years from now we will have a large cadre of public health professionals who will be well-trained – and highly effective – in policy analysis, policy advocacy, and community organizing / community civic capacity building to address SDoH through policy change. Public health will do much less individual-level intervention, and will mainly focus on truly population-level interventions - - and that will be a great thing.