Meet the Scientist
By Bridget Huber
Jeffery Salloway didn't plan to become a scientist. Salloway, Public Health Epidemiologist and Professor of Health Management and Policy at the University of New Hampshire, studied sociology and political science at Tufts University. He planned to pursue a career in the social sciences when, as a Boston University graduate student, he was asked to teach a course in epidemiology jointly offered by the school of Sociology and the Medical School.
For Salloway, working with the team of medical doctors and social scientists who taught the course was a transformative experience. "I became so uncontrollably excited...The link between health and the social world we live in is so tight and once I realized it, it just gripped me and I couldn't let go of it."
"I knew then that I couldn't be just a social scientist," says Salloway. After this realization and amidst what he calls the "intellectual explosion" spurred by the civil rights movement and the cultural revolution of the 1960s, Salloway decided to pursue a career in public health. His went to work at neighborhood health care centers in Dorchester, Massachusetts and Mississippi.
What Salloway saw at these clinics radicalized him. His patients were mainly African-American and poor. Many were malnourished. Salloway provided pre-natal care to girls as young as fifteen and treated sick people that were denied access to the quality hospitals reserved for whites. Salloway came to realize that "the social circumstances that surrounded disease were so impenetrable that we couldn't provide treatment and cure without social prevention."
In other words, treating the medical symptoms of disease is not sufficient-the social problems such as racism, poverty, and unequal access to resources that perpetuate disease urgently need to be addressed if public health is to improve.
Today, Salloway works in a field he describes as "the juncture of social science and medicine," --social epidemiology. He has published numerous books and articles about health and society, and currently investigates the links between air quality and the common but little-understood asthma. What continue to drive and fascinate Salloway are the sociological solutions to disease: "The root causes of epidemic disease are racism, war and oppression. Only when we realize this, will we solve the problem."