A Life-Long Commitment
to Social Justice
Barbara (Bobby) Gottlieb, MD, MPH is a primary care internist at Brookside Community Health Center in Jamaica Plain, MA where she has worked since 1981. In addition to her patient care responsibilities, she is responsible for developing clinical and public health programs and coordinates medical student and resident teaching activities at the health center. She also coordinates research activities at the health center, and serves as a liaison to academically based researchers and research projects.
A member of the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care and the Division of Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Bobby teaches regularly on the in-patient service. She is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, where she teaches in several courses and is a member of the Division of Service Learning. She is a faculty member at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she teaches in the interdisciplinary program in Women, Gender and Health. She also teaches a practicum course for MPH students. She serves as advisor and mentor to medical and public health students who are interested in the health of women and underserved communities.
Bobby is active in local and national public health policy, advocacy and coalition building. She is a member of several coalitions convened by the Boston Public Health Commission to improve the health of women and adolescents, and is co-principal investigator in a community-academic-public health agency partnership to improve the health of reproductive age women. She is a member of the editorial board of Patient Care, Journal of Primary Care, and serves on the advisory boards of several organizations related to women's reproductive health. She is a mentor for CCPH's Service-Learning Institute and has consulted on service-learning in Taiwan.
Bobby served as CCPH board chair from 2008-2009 and is serving
as CCPH board chair emeritus from 2009-2010. Recognizing her exemplary leadership
as CCPH board chair, and her unparalleled commitment to ensuring an inclusive
organization that breaks down financial and other barriers to participation, in
January 2010 the CCPH board established the Bobby Gottlieb Scholarship Fund. The
Fund provides scholarships for those otherwise unable to participate in CCPH events
and programs. To learn more about the Fund, including how you can make a donation
to it, click here.
I wear a lot of hats.
When I was interviewed to become a Board member of CCPH I remember saying that I feel like I am a community-campus partnership. That sounds a little like bragging. What I mean is that I try to build bridges between different worlds through my activities. I spend most of my time at a community health center where I have worked since 1981. Like most community health centers, our mission is to promote health and well-being in our community, with a special emphasis on the needs of individuals and communities that experience economic, cultural or other barriers to health care. The mission, stated specifically, is "to provide high quality, multi-disciplinary, family-oriented health care to the members of the community, regardless of their ability to pay." The health center provides clinical care as well as population health-oriented programs in collaboration with many other community agencies as well as local and state public health agencies and academic institutions and teaching hospitals.
Although I live 3 blocks from my health center, have raised my kids in the community, sent them to public schools, and have been at the health center for 28 years, it wouldn't be honest to say that "community member" is my only identity. I also teach at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, work with local and state public health agencies, and try to provide a bridge between the community and academic institutions and public health institutions through my work.
To me the defining feature of my work has been long term commitment and consistency. There are so many things that you learn if you stay in one place, see things through, and see things evolve and change over time. This is true for clinical care - there is nothing like taking care of someone for 28 years, taking care of the next generation and the next. It is also true for programmatic and policy work. No matter how good a planner you are, you never really know what is going to happen until you start doing something. And even then - you don't know what will happen in 6 months, a year, 5 years. Great ideas may not be so great in practice. Things that are slow to start may really gain traction and create a lot of good if you allow them to unfold.
Relationships. To me, everything comes down to relationships. In clinical care, the relationship between the patient, the patient's family and the provider, is the key to everything. And in community work it is relationships again that provide the foundation for trust, exchange of knowledge, the search for solutions. There are no shortcuts to building good, solid relationships.
The biggest challenge is working in a world with so many threats to dignity and social justice. As a child of my parents, and a child of the 1960's, I grew up surrounded by individuals, and a historical context that valued and supported social justice. I had no idea how brief a moment in history that would be. So much energy is spent trying to hold on to hard-won gains - civil rights, women's rights, reproductive rights, etc.
I believe that it is possible to find the answers to the deepest social problems on the planet - to peace and meaningful conflict resolution in places like Rwanda, solutions to the profound poverty and devastation of Haiti....but it is so difficult to align the necessary forces, all of the wisdom, energy and resources in the direction of positive change, to make everyone believe that those problems and challenges belong to all of us, that their solutions are key to how we will all survive and move forward. But - how do you create such a united sense of purpose and connectedness, accountability, global identity?...that is what is so challenging.
What keeps me motivated is the courage and resilience
I see among people who face greater challenges than I will personally ever confront,
colleagues who are brave, committed, accountable, resilient, wise, funny....
Accountability is a key word, especially for people who are privileged because of their position in society, their education, their access to resources. It is easy to believe that because you have good values and do some good in the world that you have done enough. You may get recognition, win awards...no one is really going to force you to do more. But - always look beyond yourself. Always question - where am I grounded? where do my values come from? who cares about what I do? how do I hear the voices of people and communities that are disempowered? how am I connected to them? Always ask yourself - am I living and acting in ways that are consistent with my values? For everyone - there is always room to embed yourself more, to deepen the connections and the trust, to question and deepen your values and the work that you do.
A community-campus partnership is a relationship. Within this relationship are multiple relationships - between individuals and between institutions. Like any relationship, it is a living, breathing, hopefully evolving and always improving purposeful connection.
Ground yourself in a few fundamental purposes, with the principles that arise from those purposes. For example - social justice is a key starting point. The principles that extend from that are the importance of giving voice and power to the disempowered, the disadvantaged. If you bring everything back to those fundamental purposes and principles - make yourself, your policies accountable to those, you correct yourself and your policies when they go off course...you will help make the world a better place.
CCPH, more than any organization, embodies what I do. My career and work path evolved because of problems and challenges that I saw in front of me. while I had a lot of spiritual mentors and inspirations, I didn't have a lot of concrete mentors. I could have done a lot of things better. CCPH is an organization that embodies the values that are important to me, and has built a network of incredibly accomplished, dedicated, bold and talented people who are building and extending the relevant work of community campus partnerships in the name of social justice well beyond what I could have ever imagined. I never fail to be inspired by any contact I have with anyone connected to CCPH.
I would go back to the first question
- the longterm commitment and consistency that I have had working in one community.
I have learned a lot, gained perspective from having had the opportunity to work
with people, programs, organizations and issues over a long period of time.
I hope and expect that the CCPH's core values will infuse the development of health care and public health (in their broadest sense) in the US and throughout the world. That would mean that the voice of community, particularly disadvantaged, underserved communities - leads the way in developing solutions to the complex problems, and in creating a vision of the future. I expect that research, program planning, policy work, education, health systems - all of that and more - will look different when communities have their full and deserved leading voice. In 10 years I hope that people would ask - how else would we ever want to do it?
CCPH is about the principle of
inclusion. More than inclusion - about the leading voice of people whose voices
have been systematically excluded. In a small way, the scholarship fund asserts
the principle of inclusion. It is expensive to attend conferences and meetings.
The scholarship fund will, in some small way, allow individuals who would otherwise
not be able to attend these events, to participate, contribute their voice, and
share in the exciting exchange. I hope others who have resources will contribute
to the fund and extend its reach so that it has more than a symbolic effect on
most efficient way to reach me is by email,
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