In the News

PHI’s Mary Pittman Discusses Public Health and her Lifetime Commitment to the Field

In a recent interview with PharmaVoice, PHI’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Mary Pittman, discusses public health, the root causes of some health inequities, the importance of partnering with community and her lifetime commitment to the field. In 2020, Pittman was recognized among the PharmaVoice 100.

public health professional does home visit with a child who has asthma

In her decades-long career, Mary Pittman, CEO of the Public Health Institute, has seen — and helped solve — one public health mystery after another.

Mary Pittman says working in public health is being “a little bit like a sleuth.” There are mysteries to be solved, patterns to be found and clues to be followed backward until you discover an answer.

She describes one neighborhood with unusually high asthma rates — two or three times higher, than the average, in fact — among children who lived there. Each of these children might have been treated individually at their pediatrician’s offices, with their doctors going through the familiar routine of teaching them how to use their inhalers properly. But those case-by-case interventions wouldn’t answer the bigger question: Why were there so many children with asthma there in the first place?

In this case, the answer was trucks.

“Trucks down near the port were parking in that neighborhood, and they were idling, so the diesel was being breathed in by these kids all the time,” Pittman says.

That kind of investigation and sleuthing is the core of what public health is all about: Finding the root cause of a problem that affects many people, using data and evidence to evaluate it and implementing programs to solve it.

“It’s not just giving kids more instruction on how to use an inhaler,” she says, “It’s to get the idling trucks out of the neighborhood.”

Over the course of more than 40 years working in public health, Pittman has watched the world change for the better and problems get solved, from eradicating smallpox and polio in the U.S., to the introduction of seat belt laws, to removing sugary drinks from school vending machines, to the success of antismoking campaigns.

“You’re working hard on a big problem, but you see that it is possible to solve it,” she says.

Read the full article by clicking on the link below.

Picture of Mary Pittman
The community knows their community best, and they know how to intervene if you listen to them, you engage them, and you provide them the resources that they need. Mary Pittman

President and Chief Executive Officer

Originally published by PharmaVoice

More Updates

Work With Us

You change the world. We do the rest. Explore fiscal sponsorship at PHI.

Bring Your Work to PHI

Support Us

Together, we can accelerate our response to public health’s most critical issues.


Find Employment

Begin your career at the Public Health Institute.

See Jobs

Aerial view of wildfire smoke


Wildfires & Extreme Heat: Resources to Protect Yourself & Your Community

Communities across the U.S. and around the world are grappling with dangerous wildfires and extreme heat. These threats disrupt and uproot communities and pose serious risks to environmental and community health—from rising temperatures, unhealthy air pollutants, water contamination and more. Find PHI tools, resources and examples to help communities take action and promote climate safety, equity and resiliency.

Get started

Continue to