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Alumnae Stories

Public Health Equity Advocate and Leader Paves the Way for Others: Hazel D. Dean, MPH, ScD, FACE, C'83

November 2019

Hazel Dean, MPH, ScD, FACEHazel D. Dean, C’83, MPH, ScD, FACE, is a thought leader and change agent whose primary interests are promoting health equity, both nationally and internationally, and ensuring that underserved communities receive the healthcare they need. As deputy director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention in Atlanta, Dean strives daily toward these goals.

Dean was born in the Bahamas and grew up in Miami, where she was an honor student and a member of the school district’s Academic Achievement Program, a select cohort engaged in accelerated coursework for college and career preparation. While in high school, Dean considered herself a “science geek” who loved to explore unanswered questions. Through the accelerated curriculum, she conducted research for a physician in audiology. Later during her senior year, she was a Silver Knight Award nominee for science, which recognized her for community involvement and academic achievements. A high school English teacher she remembers fondly, Ellen Heidt, had an affinity for historically Black colleges and universities. Dean credits Heidt with influencing her decision to apply to Spelman.

Deciding to Enter the Public Health Field 

After her early exposure and successes with scientific research, Dean decided to major in biology with the intention of becoming a medical researcher. Spelman professor emerita Nagambal Shah, Ph.D., sparked Dean’s interest in biostatistics, which eventually led to Dean’s earning an MPH in international health and biostatistics and an ScD in biostatistics at Tulane University. Dean is grateful to Shah for encouraging a sense of discovery among her students and inspiring them to explore lesser known areas of statistics.

Throughout her two decades in public health, Dean has used her education and experience to address health-equality gaps in both population health and workforce development. Because few women of African descent are in leadership roles in federal public health agencies, Dean has become a strong advocate for more and improved training opportunities for staff on all levels, especially for racial and ethnic minorities. She regards this as the best way to fill the public-health leadership pipeline. She continues to lead her organization in identifying new strategic approaches to health equity and workforce development, and many of her initiatives have been adapted by other centers across the CDC.

Helping Others through Advocacy 

Dean’s advocacy reaches far beyond the CDC, however. She has authored or coauthored more than 130 publications in five principal areas: prevention and control of infectious and chronic diseases; public health surveillance; applied epidemiologic methods; social and structural determinants of health; and the public health workforce. She also has served on diverse national and international advisory working groups and committees that have sought to address infectious and chronic diseases among underserved populations. Dean often participates in national and international conferences, where she promotes inclusion of social determinants of health and health-equity language among state, local, tribal and international partners, such as the World Health Organization. She encourages them to consider this approach when designing prevention programs and regards this area of research as the most influential of her career.

Because of her efforts and recognition as a public health leader, Dean has received numerous awards and honors, including, among others, Spelman College’s Alumnae Achievement Award in the Health Sciences, Tulane University’s Champion of Public Health Award and the CDC’s Health Equity and Diversity Champion Award. She received the nation’s highest civil service award, the 2012 U.S. Presidential Rank Honor Award for Distinguished Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Distinguished Service Award — the highest honor awarded by the department and granted only to senior leaders for their sustained excellence. In 2014, she was elected a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology in recognition of her substantial and sustained contributions to the field of epidemiology.

Dean encourages parents and educators to expose youth — especially girls — to math and science early. She believes that engaging them in these subjects in elementary school will help them discover new and emerging careers while still young. As for those who are either in college now or in a career and considering a role in public health, she says, “Anyone can decide to come into public health because it is multidisciplinary.” Those who are interested should “look at public health as an extension of what they already do.” Finally, she adds that potential public health leaders should know that when “working in the public arena, you give up some things, but the reward is so much greater.”

Dean believes strongly in the mission of Spelman College and investing in Spelman students. For this reason, she has established a scholarship for Spelman students and often returns to share her journey with students.

Hazel D. Dean
By Shantoria Vance, C'2007, as seen in The Spelman Messenger.