Spring 2018

An Officer and a Veterinarian

Lessons learned from Hugh Mainzer, V90, who received the Tufts University Alumni Association's Distinguished Achievement Award.

By Genevieve Rajewski

In his nearly three-decade career as a public servant under five presidents, Hugh Mainzer, V90, has repeatedly been called upon to lead response efforts to national health threats. Now a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and assigned to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he helped ensure public health at two Olympic Games, participated in response and recovery efforts after eight hurricanes and typhoons, helped to coordinate response efforts following the Zika disease outbreak, assessed the public-health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and deployed alongside the FBI in the 2001 Florida anthrax investigation. He has been awarded two U.S. Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medals and two Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s awards for distinguished service—and in recognition of team efforts in support of the U.S. government response to the Ebola crisis in 2015, Mainzer received a U.S. Presidential Unit Citation.

In the days before the Tufts University Alumni Association bestowed upon Mainzer its Distinguished Achievement Award, Cummings Veterinary Medicine talked to him about what he has learned working to protect and improve the health of people and animals.

Photo: Courtesy of Hugh Mainzer

CRISES OFTEN REFLECT A FAILURE OF PREVENTION. When I was an undergraduate student at Brandeis University, I helped start the first campus emergency-response system, for which I served as an EMT. That was my first exposure to the reality that in clinical medicine we often end up responding to many situations that should have been avoidable. During that time, and then later as a paramedic, I saw victims of alcohol and drug abuse, motor vehicle accidents, shootings, and domestic violence. As a Tufts veterinary student, I saw the impact of a human disease on a primate population, and later as a staff veterinarian had a chance to learn and practice what I had learned about “herd health.” After graduation, moonlighting in a veterinary emergency clinic and later as a volunteer clinician for a humane society, I treated many health problems that may have been mitigated with good preventive care, basic medicine, or surgery.

Many of the large-scale health challenges we face as a society today often either reflect missed opportunities to plan and practice good prevention or demonstrate an inadequate understanding of the vulnerabilities in populations, environmental systems, or the developed infrastructure in place to protect us.

A SENSE OF HUMOR IS A PLUS. In 1996, I went to Utah as the field supervisor for a CDC community investigation of a measles outbreak and helped make the decision to immunize 19,000 people. But things didn’t exactly get off to a smooth start. When we were introducing ourselves, the local health director looked at me and said, “Veterinarian? Why would the CDC want to send a vet to a measles outbreak?” I replied, “Measles? They told me it was weasels!” The joke made everyone a little more comfortable as we took the time to get to know the community’s needs and priorities.

PAY IT FORWARD. I believe that you can only begin to lead once you go from awareness, to competence, to proficiency, and then earn some recognition of expertise. But it is difficult to be true to ourselves and any legacy we hope to create unless we then take the time to teach others. I’ll never tire of that, whether it is mentoring veterinary students, new epidemic intelligence officers, senior colleagues in our public health preparedness program, or partners throughout government, academia, and the private sector as we sort through an emerging issue. My dad and my family have been and remain amazing partners during all my adventures and endeavors. When my mom passed away, my dad and I provided the original funding to create a public health award at Tufts in her memory—and I’m just in awe of how the recipients are now advancing public health. My father came to this country at age six, escaping from Nazi Germany. My mother lost her father to a workplace accident when she was nine. Yet they both overcame adversity and provided a foundation for my contributions. That motivates me to try to do that not just for my children, but for others. I look forward to see what we now define as “One Health” evolve to “Health 4E”: complete physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being for everyone, everything, everywhere, every day.

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