August 11, 2006

Hill, Schaffner to lead infectious diseases foundation

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George Hill, Ph.D.

Hill, Schaffner to lead infectious diseases foundation

William Schaffner, M.D.

William Schaffner, M.D.

Two Vanderbilt University School of Medicine infectious disease experts are poised to lead the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) through its next six years, marking the first time in the organization's history that two successive board presidents will come from the same institution.

George Hill, Ph.D., is ending his two-year term as vice president and will assume the role of president-elect for two years before becoming president.

William Schaffner, M.D., was elected in May by members of the NFID board and board of trust to succeed Hill as vice president. He will transition in two years from that role to president-elect, followed by president.

“It is an unusual coincidence; it talks to the prominence of Vanderbilt in the area of infectious diseases,” NFID Executive Director Leonard Novick said.

“Dr. Hill has been a board member for a number of years now and has always guided NFID in the area of racial disparities in immunization. That has been a particular focus for him and it has become a focus for NFID.”

Based in Bethesda, Md., the NFID is a non-profit organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to educating the public and health care professionals about the causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

“The essence of our mission is to provide education to both the public and to professionals about infectious diseases and our particular emphasis is on prevention,” Novick said.

“We do that through a variety of means, including news conferences, and that is one area where Bill Schaffner has been so prominent for us, being an excellent spokesperson for immunization and for prevention of infectious diseases.”

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D., said the appointments reflect well on Vanderbilt.

“This is a significant honor for two of our most distinguished faculty members. Both Dr. Hill and Dr. Schaffner have been leaders in important areas of infectious disease, although they have worked in very different fields.

“Dr. Hill, in addition to his successful career as a basic investigator, has addressed the important area of disparities in health outcomes among different racial and ethnic groups while Dr. Schaffner has been an important clinical investigator and spokesperson about public health and disease prevention,” Gabbe said.

Schaffner said it is unusual for an organization to be dedicated to educating both the public and health care professionals.

“That's a distinctive role. I know of no other organization that aims to educate both the public and the professional,” Schaffner said.

“The Foundation has chosen to emphasize the appropriate use of vaccine and also the cautious and responsible use of antibiotics, and it does this in a wide variety of ways.”

The NFID hosts annual conferences on topics including vaccine research and antibiotic resistance and provides training grants for young professionals interested in the area of infectious diseases.

“The thing that we do quite a bit is education,” Hill said. “We educate the public with numerous activities where the press come to discuss infectious diseases that are emerging or issues that may come up because it relates to infectious diseases.

“Our other education really deals with not just educating physicians, but all health care professionals. We usually use continuing medical education as the way to do that. So we have three to four programs in succession each year and individuals can take courses online.”

Hill said he has a particular interest in the work that NFID is doing to reach and serve minority populations, particularly in developing a strategy to ensure that the immunization rates continue to increase.

“This is one of our huge responsibilities and, in the case of minority populations, they don't receive the information. The physicians that they go to probably could do more to make a point to say 'make sure you get those immunizations for your children,'” Hill said.

“While some populations may be in the 90 percent range, the minority populations are at 70 or 80 percent. And that has been improving, given what NFID is doing and what the CDC is doing.”

The NFID Board meets twice a year, once in Bethesda as well as at the annual Infectious Disease Society of America (ISDA) annual meeting.

Hill is the Levi Watkins Jr. Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity in Medical Education and professor of Microbiology and Immunology. Schaffner is chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine.