Meet three O∆K members advocating for public health.
Terrence Kungel, MBA
Terry Kungel currently serves on O∆K’s Foundation Board of Trustees and is the chairman and CEO of the Maine Coalition to Fight Prostate Cancer. In this role, he assists six prostate cancer network groups serving 250-500 active prostate cancer patients in Maine. Prior to his current position, Terry was the co-founder and CEO of a biotech company. He spent much of his career developing and managing new high tech companies. Terry is an initiate of the Purdue University Circle and a graduate of the Harvard Business School.
John Robitscher, MPH
John Robitscher is an initiate of the Emory University Circle and a current member of the O∆K Foundation Board of Trustee. John is the CEO of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. In this role, John, along with the volunteer leadership, provides direction and leadership to achieve NACDD’s mission to improve the health of the public by strengthening state-based leadership and expertise for chronic disease prevention and control.
Gene Siegal, M.D, Ph.D.
Dr. Gene Siegal is a member of O∆K’s National Advisory Council and was initiated into the University of Louisville Circle during medical school. Gene is the Robert W. Mowry Endowed Professor of Pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and since the summer of 2015, he has served as the Interim Chair of its Department of Pathology. Gene’s clinical research interests have centered on studies of bone tumors and related conditions, a field in which he is a recognized world authority.
What do you see as the top public health challenges for U.S. and why?
TK – Healthcare continues to generate much debate and partisan wrangling; while I am not optimistic about fixing “the system” each of us have huge opportunities to make our own changes. Obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise are main issues each of us can do something about every day.
JR – First, we must more actively address the social determinants of health that result in needless suffering and $102 billion annual indirect medical costs. Second, we must view health and mental wellbeing as more than just the absence of disease but as opportunities for people to achieve their potential. Third, climate change and the extreme weather events it causes must be abated to prevent thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary injuries, sickness, and deaths.
GS – First, we must understand why there is such diversity in health care outcomes among our citizens. We know access and economic challenges account for part of the answer, but not all. For example, African American women with breast cancer die at a greater rate because they often have types of invasive breast cancer. The tumor cells are different than those found in Caucasian women, which makes them unresponsive to many conventional therapies. Second, we need bipartisan support and compromise to create a health care system available to all Americans irrespective of financial means. Last, a long-term unwavering commitment by Congress and the President for research is the key to finding the cure for many diseases.
What can we do, as a society, to collectively assure the conditions in which people can be healthy?
TK – We need positive incentives for good behavior and penalties for bad behavior. Cigarette prices should cover all the downstream societal costs for health care. Why can’t YMCA membership costs be covered for anyone actively using them to get healthier? Why can’t the food industry be penalized for excess salt, fat, and sugar?
JR – Educate yourself about the social determinants of health, mental health, and well-being. Reach out to members of Congress to let them you know you care about these issues and that want to see positive change. You also can choose to adopt a healthier lifestyle and find ways to protect the environment in your daily habits. Walking or biking to school or work, for example, is a great way to help protect the environment and improve your health.
GS – We need to demand that our leaders commit to fund research in all its forms by lobbying our representatives and funding candidates who support these positions. We need to educate ourselves on issues surrounding health and science.
Why are you an advocate for health? What would you like members of Omicron Delta Kappa to know about this concern?
TK – My paternal grandfather and father both died from prostate cancer, and I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this disease. As a family member with 50+ years of lived experience, I have seen the enormous toll of this disease. Unfortunately, too many men are not taking ownership for their health by avoiding testing for a range of medical conditions, which are manageable if caught early and generally fatal if caught late.
JR – I have spent more than 30 years working in public health. People are living longer, but preventable chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers are giving us a poorer quality of life and shorter lifespan.
I’m an advocate for chronic disease prevention and control because I want to help reduce people’s risk factors for these painful and potentially fatal diseases. And we can do so by promoting physical activity, improving access to healthy, affordable foods, and expanding science-based ways to kick the tobacco habit.
GS – I serve on the public policy boards of two professional societies committees which advocate for research support and attempt to mold legislation favorable for expanded health and science support. I also travel to Washington to urge Congress to support research. I’ve spent my life not only creating new scientific knowledge, but training the next several generations of physician scientists as a professor. No one escapes this life without personally suffering from the ravages of disease, either personally or in family members and friends. Everyone needs to be involved, and I encourage the entire O∆K family to join me in this pursuit.