Ed Hunter (ECON '78) is a well-known name in Washington, D.C. He has had a reputable 40-year career in public health, and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, a nonprofit with a focus on transforming the public health field through philanthropy. Previously, Hunter served as the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Washington office, and the Associate Director of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Hunter’s career is as esteemed as it is long, and he credits the University of Maryland with launching him on the public health pathway.
When Hunter enrolled at Maryland, he chose to study government and politics; he had always been interested in the political process and how the government system worked. After taking several economics courses, Hunter gained exposure to the policy side of governing, and learned that the study of economics fit his own framework and way of thinking about the world.
Hunter eventually secured a public health internship at the National Center for Health Statistics, a hands-on experience that came with exposure to the values and issues surrounding public health. Hunter quickly decided that he wanted to pursue a career in the field. He describes public health as “the perfect application of all the things I was interested in—policy, government, and economics.”
While Hunter’s internship experience jump-started his career, his education in the traditional classroom was just as important. One of his favorite parts of being at Maryland was taking classes from people who were out practicing what they were teaching, and bringing real-world experience into the classroom. Studying economics and policy in close proximity to Washington, DC paid off; Hunter was able to take an economics class with Charles Schultze, who has served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Hunter also enjoyed his Maryland experience outside of the classroom. As a kid, his father worked for the TV station that covered UMD basketball games, so Hunter grew up watching Maryland basketball from the press box. As a student, Hunter experienced the rise of Maryland to the national basketball scene under coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, and was there for the peak of the Georgetown rivalry—which was recently reprieved in November (with a 75-71 Terps win).
A long career in the public health field is not without excitement and challenges, especially in recent years when the country faced epidemics including the H1N1 flu and the Ebola crisis. Hunter liked being in the intersection of public health, science and politics, where “a lot of really important things can get done that benefit the health of the population,” he said. A large portion of Hunter’s job at the CDC was keeping Congress members and other policy networks well-informed about various issues; managing crises; and gaining support from the Congress and Administration for important policies and programs. In his last year, Ebola dominated the scene – with the year ending with enactment of significant funding for CDC to fight the epidemic in the US and across the globe.
Beyond concerns such as H1N1 and Ebola that received national media attention, Hunter’s career has also focused on broader public health issues that affect everyday lives. One particular focus is the extent to which health is determined by factors that are in play far before a crisis hits—quality of housing, walkability of communities, exercise opportunities, access to nutritional food, high quality preventative services, school lunches, and more.
According to Hunter, public health agencies can play an effective role in working across government and private businesses to “find ways to make communities healthier to begin with.”
This preventative approach to solving public health issues will not be successful without collaboration, Hunter notes. No one party can do it alone, and solutions require different and better thinking about interdisciplinary partnerships.
“If you can innovate and move across disciplines and do things in collective, new, innovative ways that may have not been conceived before, it very well may improve costs and outcomes,” Hunter said
This emphasis on interdisciplinary work is echoed in Hunter’s advice to students who wish to pursue a career in public health – or any other field. He encourages amassing a diverse range of experiences, projects, and studies both within and outside of a certain field.
Hunter has applied this advice to his own career, as evidenced by his recent job change. While at the CDC, Hunter described his job as having a foot in public health and a foot in the government; as president and CEO of the de Beaumont foundation, Hunter is working on similar issues but with a focus on using philanthropy instead of government to accomplish a lofty goal: strengthening and transforming the public health system.
While this goal may seem daunting, Hunter encourages students to consider pursuing careers that can make effective change on large issues like the public health system. Having spent a career in public service, Hunter is aware of the sense of hopelessness that comes from watching a divided and gridlocked Federal government. However, he also believes that if a problem exists, we all have an obligation to roll up our sleeves and try to fix it, either by putting some time in as a recent graduate or making a commitment to return to the public sector later in life. And while Congress may be gridlocked, there is a lot of positive movement in Agencies like CDC, and in cities and state capitols.
“If you want to be the solution, the biggest levers you have are public policy levers—and organizations can often be better affected from the inside. The more broken you think government is, the more there is to fix,” he said. “Not everything requires a government solution, and sometimes it’s not best, but the biggest levers are in public policy world. Don’t ignore the fact that government can be dominant force for positive change and solutions.”
Hunter has long been working on finding solutions to our nation’s and world’s great challenges, and encourages students to do the same.