The Schroeder Center for Health Policy hosted a visit by Rear Admiral Kenneth Bernard, MD, DTM&H, USPHS (Ret.) this fall. Dr. Bernard is a specialist in biosecurity, an area that combines public health and national security issues. Dr. Bernard’s long list of accomplishments includes serving in the White House under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; launching Project Bioshield, a $5.6 billion program for biological defense; and chairing the Whitehouse Biodefense Policy Coordinating Committee. More than 200 W&M students and faculty embraced the opportunity to connect with Dr. Bernard during his two-day visit.
Dr. Bernard met with students in select public policy, government, and sociology classes during his visit. Speaking with graduate students in the Master of Public Policy program, he discussed the role of national security and public health in the policymaking process and emphasized the importance of interpersonal relationships and trust in interagency collaboration. He also spoke to the value of building consensus between interested parties, when seeking support for one’s policy priorities.
At a lecture open to the campus community entitled “Politics, National Security, and Global Health,” Dr. Bernard spoke about the realities of working in Washington and offered some fascinating examples of his experiences in biosecurity. He touched on themes such as the importance of the incentives faced by various stakeholders and the need to understand others’ points of view. Dr. Bernard used examples from his career including the passage of the Project Bioshield Act and the national responses to the 2001 anthrax attacks and the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Fielding questions from an audience of mostly undergraduate students, Dr. Bernard offered advice to aspiring policymakers and discussed strategies for garnering support for important issues. He advised current students and young professionals to search out the most interesting work with the best people, arguing that these factors, rather than pay or future career prospects, truly influence success and job satisfaction. Dr. Bernard again emphasized the importance of interpersonal relationships and trust in generating support for initiatives. Inquiring about the goals and incorporating the values of multiple stakeholders creates rapport with collaborators and helps to build consensus around issues, he said.
During his lecture and class visits, Dr. Bernard also discussed a number of challenges facing biosecurity in the U.S. and abroad. In particular, he highlighted the tensions between the two areas of national security and public health, and described the necessity of accepting budgetary realities. Dr. Bernard also discussed the decision-making process on selected biosecurity issues, and he encouraged W&M students to consider pursuing careers in the biosecurity field.