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The public health army’s four-star general

Drs. Fleming & BeckerAn alumnus of OHSU’s Graduate Medical Education program, David Fleming, MD, completed his residency at OHSU in 1982, and has dedicated his career to national and international public health. “If there is indeed a public health army out there,” said Thomas Becker, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, “Dr. Fleming would be one of its four-star generals.” 

Dr. Fleming served as State Epidemiologist for Oregon from 1992 to 2000, managing 180 staff and a budget of $67 million. As the Principal Investigator on grants totaling $10 million a year, he was a pivotal figure in public health programs ranging from communicable diseases to chronic diseases and workplace injuries. He served as Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., and was closely involved in monitoring the integrity of the agency’s public health and research programs. As Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Strategies program, Dr. Fleming was responsible for the creation, development, and oversight of cross-cutting programs targeting diseases and conditions disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest people and countries. He oversaw the Foundation’s portfolios in vaccine-preventable diseases, nutrition, newborn and child health, leadership, emergency relief, and cross-cutting strategies to improve access to health tools in developing countries. He also represented the Gates Foundation at the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the World Bank.

“I’ve been pretty lucky in my career to have had the chance to work on interesting stuff with great people,” said Dr. Fleming. “On a small scale, I feel a little like Forrest Gump – being in the right place at the right time. But having the opportunity to do so many different things has been the best part of my career. I have been able to see the delivery of health and public health from many different perspectives, and to recognize that Oregon has a lot in common with Oklahoma. For that matter, so do Seattle and Senegal.”

“My work at the Gates Foundation taught me that the issues and problems people face are more the same than they are different. For example, mothers across the world just want their children to be healthy and happy. I’ve learned that most problems come down to fundamentals that aren’t all that different from each other. Finding a solution is therefore often no more complicated than adapting a good approach that has worked in an analogous setting.”

Dr. Fleming is currently Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County, where he oversees an extensive program of core prevention initiatives, environmental health, community oriented primary care, emergency medical services, correctional health services, public health preparedness, and community-based public health assessment and practices.

“The School of Medicine helped build in me the possibility of using my career to contribute,” he said. “During our training at OHSU we learned about the great potential inherent in a collaborative spirit and in learning from one another. I also learned to accept that you can't do everything, and to concentrate on doing the most important well. That’s true in health care delivery and that’s especially true in public health.”

“More than any other public health practitioner whom I have ever met, he has had a diversity of opportunities in important public health agencies, focusing on critically important public health topics,” said Dr. Becker. “He has really been a force of nature in our field.”

The School of Medicine Alumni Association annually recognizes distinguished alumni in three fields: leadership, lifetime achievement and science. David Fleming, MD R ’82 was the recipient of the Charles A. Preuss, MD Distinguished Alumni Award, for 2010. This award honors a School of Medicine graduate who, in professional achievement and service to their community, reflects the highest ideals of the School of Medicine.

Pictured: Dr. David Fleming (l) receives the Charles A. Preuss, MD Distinguished Alumni Award from Dr. Thomas Becker. Dr. Fleming and Dr. Becker were contemporaries at the CDC, occupying fellowships in the Epidemic Intelligence Service program.

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