Mass. Health Commissioner To Join Public Health School

Howard K. Koh, Massachusetts commissioner of public health and an advocate for the health of the poor, will join the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the University announced yesterday.

He will become an associate dean and professor on April 15.

Koh has worked as commissioner for more than five years, which is unusual since the position is typically restaffed every 18 to 24 months.

Throughout his tenure, Koh has focused on prevention as the key to greater public health. He also has encouraged diversity within his department and worked in particular to improve the health of the needy, according to a University press release.

“He is a charismatic leader in health and a superb communicator,” HSPH Dean Barry R. Bloom said in the press release.

Koh will head the division of public health practice, an area he described as “a bridge between academia, government and community.”

He said he hopes to instill in his students the commitment to service necessary to work in public health.

“The mission of public health is to serve all people, especially those society counted least and put last,” he said.

Koh also said his past experience will help his teaching.

“I now know the incredible challenges and opportunities in public service. I hope to translate those to the classroom,” he said.

Koh, who attended Yale’s college and medical school, previously worked as director of cancer prevention and control at Boston University Medical Center and professor of dermatology, medicine and public health at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

A cancer specialist, Koh has been certified in four medical fields.

Meanwhile, W. Mitt Romney’s administration has already named Koh’s successor as commissioner—Christine Ferguson, who worked in the Rhode Island government before a failed bid for Congress in 2002. Ferguson was defeated in the Republican primary.

—Staff writer William B. Higgins can be reached at whiggins@fas.harvard.edu.