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December 10, 2008
CONTACT: Amy Lunday

Johns Hopkins Senior Kurt Herzer Wins Marshall Scholarship

[Note: High resolution photos of Herzer are available upon request to acl@jhu.edu.]

Kurt R. Herzer, a Johns Hopkins University senior from Melville, N.Y., who has dedicated his studies to improving the quality and safety of healthcare systems around the world, has been selected by the British government as a Marshall Scholar, one of 40 chosen nationwide.

A 21-year-old public health studies major in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Herzer plans to enroll in Oxford University's Evidence-Based Social Intervention master's degree program within the Department of Social Policy and Social Work. He is interested in advancing public health interventions related to health care quality and safety that are firmly grounded in scientific evidence. Herzer eventually hopes to pursue a medical degree in addition to his research degree.

Kurt R. Herzer
Kurt Herzer and his mentor, Peter Pronovost, with a patient at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Photo by Keith Weller

"The academic independence that [Oxford] offers is an excellent match with my preferred approach to learning and scientific inquiry," Herzer wrote in his Marshall application essay. "I am eager to form the lifelong mentorships and friendships for which Oxford is famous. And, as I always make time for hobbies, I would consider it an honor to join the university's highly regarded cycling team or audition for its orchestra."

Herzer's work is informed by his own experiences with a visual disability discovered during his childhood. Legally blind as a result of a genetic condition affecting his retina, Herzer says that one of his earliest memories is of an ophthalmologist telling him and his parents how the disability would limit what he could accomplish in life. Undeterred, Herzer found creative ways around obstacles that would have kept him from his schoolwork or childhood hobbies. Today, he is an advocate for better academic accommodations for students with disabilities, volunteering to teach computer skills to younger legally blind children. Most recently, he collaborated with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland on legislation making it possible for visually impaired students to receive large-print textbooks at the same time as their sighted peers, rather than weeks after classes begin. He testified for the Maryland General Assembly, which later passed the bill. For Herzer, solving problems requires both an understanding of the social reality of those affected and the skills to find solutions at a higher level.

"Through my academic journey, I have sought to help those who have not been well-served by today's healthcare systems," Herzer wrote. "This quest has carried me from hospital patient safety meetings in Baltimore, to a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., to WHO headquarters in Switzerland. The physicians, social scientists, researchers and politicians with whom I have collaborated affirm my belief that widespread change requires the involvement and wisdom of many groups, with the well-being of the patient as a guiding North Star. By practicing medicine and studying health policy, I want to be able to develop solutions for quality and safety problems that are scientifically sound and clinically feasible, from patient to policy."

Herzer's Marshall Scholarship will allow him to continue his commitment to public health and patient safety research. This past summer, he worked in Geneva at the World Health Organization on the First Global Patient Safety Challenge as part of a campaign to improve hand hygiene and infection control in more than 43 countries. (He went skydiving in Switzerland during his free time.) His work there formed the basis of his honors thesis, building statistical models to estimate the global burden of healthcare-associated infections.

Through a Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship and with support from a Merck Global Health Scholarship and the Bander Family International Fund, Herzer has studied health care quality and patient safety both nationally and internationally, traveling abroad to work with patient safety leaders in the United Kingdom and at the World Health Organization. In the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Herzer works on a number of perioperative safety initiatives centered in the Weinberg Operating Rooms. Among these is an innovative use of medical simulation to identify and eliminate hazards that could harm patients undergoing a variety of surgical procedures. He has presented much of this work at national and international conferences and recently delivered a talk on health care quality in Mexico at an inaugural medical congress.

Herzer's mentor, Peter Pronovost, a patient safety expert and a professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine and surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, describes him as "a true star."

"Kurt is something magical," Pronovost wrote in his letter of support. "He is a visionary thinker who sees making a huge social impact in the world as his primary mission. But he is also a systems thinker, who sees the end game and the bumps and hurdles along the way as something to be managed. It is not just big ideas and dreams Kurt executes and delivers."

Dr. Kelly Gabo, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Medicine and the director of the Public Health Studies Program, is one of Herzer's advisors. She describes working with Herzer as "one of the highlights of my job."

"Kurt's jump from one hospital, to one country, to the world, has given him a unique perspective about the social importance of the problems he studies and has furthered his convictions about the global significance of his work," Gebo wrote in her letter of recommendation for Herzer's Marshall application. "His excitement for the Marshall Scholarship comes from his belief that an education at Oxford, with the mentors he meets and the technical skills he acquires, can help him improve the safety of healthcare systems around the world."

On the Homewood campus, Herzer has served on the university- wide Diversity Leadership Council, reflecting his interest in diversity issues and students with disabilities. Herzer was chosen to represent his undergraduate peers on the committee formed to select the university's incoming president, Ronald J. Daniels. Herzer rides with students on the Johns Hopkins Cycling Team; is the director and founder of a student program in quality, patient safety, and risk management at Johns Hopkins Hospital, was the president and founder of a student public health group called Critical Mass; competed with Hopkins Olympic Taekwondo, a sport in which he was a gold and silver medalist in the 2006 statewide competition; and is a counselor at Camp Fantastic, Special Love Inc., a summer camp for children with cancer.

The Marshall Scholarship is just one of several awards and honors Herzer has earned. In March, Herzer was named a 2008 Truman Scholar. The prestigious annual award issued by the Harry S. Truman Foundation is for extraordinary juniors committed to careers in public service who possess outstanding leadership potential and communication skills and are in the top quarter of their classes. Each scholar receives $30,000 for graduate study, is eligible for priority admission and supplemental financial aid at premier graduate institutions, and receives leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and access to special internship opportunities within the federal government.

In February, Herzer was one of two Johns Hopkins undergraduates named to USA Today's 17th annual All- USA College Academic First Team. Only 20 students from around the country were chosen for this honor, which recognizes young people for academic excellence and community service. He was also the lead author on an article published earlier this year in the Journal of Patient Safety and in 2007, he received the Patient Safety Research Award from the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. Additionally, Herzer anticipates that two more papers will be in print within the next few months.

Herzer is the son of Karl and Patrice Herzer of Melville, N.Y., and a graduate of Half Hollow Hills High School East.

Herzer is one of two Marshall Scholarship winners from Johns Hopkins this year. The other is Rishi Mediratta, 22, of Portage, Mich., who graduated from the university in May 2008 with a bachelor's degree in public health studies and anthropology.

Marshall Scholarships are funded by the British government to commemorate the Marshall Plan, the U.S. government program that assisted in the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Marshall Scholarships give up to 40 winners each year the opportunity to study at any British university. The scholarship pays university fees and living expenses, as well as travel fare to and from the United States. It is typically a two-year grant, with the possibility of extending the scholarship for a third year. Recipients must be U.S. citizens no older than 25 with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.70 after freshman year.

Besides a letter of endorsement from their university and four other letters of recommendation, applicants must submit by early October an outline of their proposed studies in Great Britain along with a personal essay. After a regional selection committee reviews the applications, candidates are chosen and interviewed by the committee in mid-November.

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