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Alumni Notes

Winning the Lottery

By Christine Grillo

People in public health tend to have multiple careers, says Edyth Schoenrich, who's had four or five herself. For her, that's a good thing: "I've enjoyed every moment of every one."

Sixty years ago, Schoenrich, MD, MPH '71, began her first career as a clinician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and as chief resident of the private medical service, when it was separate from the public medical service run by residents. As her career evolved, she did clinical research as part of her work in hematology, oncology and autoimmune diseases. Her subsequent administrative career included clinical and program management in geriatrics at Bayview (then Baltimore City Hospitals) and public health administration in the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she was in charge of all preventive services for adults, and where she directed five infectious and chronic disease state hospitals.

Schoenrich returned to the School of Public Health in 1974 as a professor, and was soon appointed senior associate dean of Academic Affairs, a role she held for about a decade during D.A. Henderson's deanship. Since 1986, she has dedicated herself to the MPH program, serving as its associate chair in addition to directing the part-time professional programs.

With six decades in medicine and public health, Schoenrich has witnessed an evolution that pleases her—the increasing regard for preventive medicine. "Clinical medicine is most elegant and most effective when one practices it from the viewpoint of the natural history of disease processes, and can therefore more sharply identify points at which to intervene," she says.

She admits that preventive medicine lacks the thrill of clinical work. "There's an enormous charge in hearing a patient say, 'You saved my life,' and you know that you did," she says. Public health practitioners need to delay satisfaction: "In preventive medicine, one may need more emotional maturity ... You don't get the same sudden 'Wow' from knowing that you helped a patient through your own knowledge and wise decisions. No one ever thanks you because they didn't get ill."

In her spare time, Schoenrich takes pleasure in opera and in winter she does hot air ballooning, mostly in the Swiss Alps—an almost spiritual experience, she says.

As someone who's savored so much in her career, she has advice, of course. The most important thing is to be involved: "Life is like the lottery. If you don't buy a ticket, you know you won't win. But if you do buy a ticket, though the odds may be against you, you have a chance."

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