When I practiced medicine, I was troubled that so many of my elderly patients wanted to be well but struggled to understand how their heart disease, diabetes, obesity or other chronic diseases made them sick.
I realized that health education, provided earlier in life, is the key to improving the health care of future patients.
That recognition motivated me to help deploy a science-based health curriculum in my local school district. Through the Great Body Shop program, students learned how the body works, how disease affects the body and how to make decisions to better care for themselves. When the health budget was cut, I continued teaching health as a volunteer for nearly a decade. It was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my career.
A couple of years ago I was disappointed about the impending demise of the Maine State Science Fair, especially since high school students already had modest options for studying science-based health. I was thrilled to learn about The Jackson Laboratory's deep commitment to education and when the Laboratory stepped in to sponsor the Fair in 2011, I was eager to help.
Since then, the Laboratory has re-energized the Science Fair. Some of the recent Fair winners were my former students. It brought me great joy to see their curiosity alive and well.
As I got to know more about the Laboratory, I soon found out that it also played an integral role in the education of college students and predoctoral and postdoctoral associates on the national stage.
Touring the Bar Harbor campus left me very impressed with the Laboratory's world-renowned researchers. This facility is not just an economic driver employing 1,500 people nationally; its researchers are training the next generation of great scientists.
I appreciated the scientists who are studying Alzheimer's, a disease that runs in both sides of my family. Their bench research is not only empowering the global scientific community, but is improving bedside patient care.
The Laboratory's advances in genomic medicine also greatly intrigued me. Using mouse avatars to run "virtual" clinical trials for human cancer is unparalleled and will transform health care. The data obtained from this precise genomic approach opens up an exciting new dimension in patient care. I also appreciated how the Laboratory is building future educational and career opportunities. Mountains of new genomic data need to be made meaningful and then readily accessible for medical use. There is job security in bioinformatics!
Hope for better health is here, right in our own backyard, and people across the nation need to know. That need prompted me to host a dinner to raise awareness of the Laboratory among more than 100 of my relatives, friends and neighbors. It also led me to accept the Laboratory's invitation to head The National Council.
I took this role with an ulterior motive: Students really matter. We need to facilitate and strengthen the Laboratory's educational commitment to young people.
My goal in leading The National Council is to broadcast the Laboratory's compelling story, about a unique 84-year-old institute that is revolutionizing medicine. Our mission is to reach out to people whose interest and support is critical to the Laboratory realizing its own vital mission.
The Jackson Laboratory may be Maine's best-kept secret, but for all of us, hope is here.