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Vital Signs

Public health pioneer Jim Yong Kim is named president of Dartmouth

Kim, right, pictured in Lesotho, Africa, is the first Asian American named as president of an Ivy League institution.

By Jennifer Durgin

DMS and DHMC may be able to claim some of the credit for attracting Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a pioneer in international public health, to be the next president of Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth has the "the perfect constellation of professional schools," Kim recently told an audience of Dartmouth faculty, students, and staff, "in addition to a fantastic undergraduate college." Academic medical centers can have "a huge impact on undergraduate education," he added. "I've seen it. I've done it. I believe it."

Office: Kim, who takes office on July 1, succeeding historian James Wright, is best known for cofounding Partners In Health (PIH) in 1987. He and Paul Far-mer were medical students at Harvard when they and a few other people decided to tackle some of the globe's most intractable health problems. They began by battling tuberculosis (TB) in a remote region of Haiti, and over the next decade PIH blossomed into a major force in global public health.

Kim was pivotal in that development. He led the first successful, large-scale treatment of multi-drug resistant TB in a poor country - Peru - despite advice from public health officials not to even attempt such an endeavor. Similar programs are now in place in over 40 nations.

Kim, who earned his undergraduate degree from Brown in 1982 and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology as well as an M.D., is also known for leading the "3 by 5" initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO). The program's aim was, by 2005, to be giving life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs to three million HIV/ AIDS patients in low- and middle-income countries. In 2003, when he launched the effort, only about 400,000 such people were getting treated.

Goal: "Everyone says it was the most ambitious, the most insane, the most infuriating target that we've ever set" at WHO, Kim said. Other senior WHO officials were concerned by the prospect of negative press if the goal was not met. So Kim volunteered to "take the blame," as he put it.

"All we can do is apologize," he told Reuters in a November 2005 interview when WHO announced it would miss the goal. "We have not moved quickly enough. We have not saved enough lives." But, he pointed out in a BBC interview, "before 3 by 5, there was not an emphasis on saving lives. . . . Many leaders in the world were saying we just have to forget about this generation of people who are infected." WHO eventually met the target in 2007.

Lesson: That experience "was a really important lesson in leadership," says Kim, "knowing how to take the blame for something, or just understanding what the stakes are."

Kim's work is widely recognized. He received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2003, was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2004, and was named one of Time's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006. Kim is no stranger to small towns, however. He grew up in Muscatine, Iowa, after immigrating with his family at age five from Korea. In high school, he was valedictorian and quarterback of the football team.

Groups: Though he has spent his career so far in health care - most recently as chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard - he believes that many of the lessons he's learned will be directly applicable to his new position at Dartmouth. In all of his global health endeavors, he has had to tackle "a fundamental problem," he says, "which is how do you get complex groups of people to achieve anything.

"You've got to have the science. Without the science you can't go anywhere." But you also have to figure out the best way to execute your goals, he adds, and that's where anthropology, engineering, business, and many other disciplines come into play.

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