Dr. Harold Simon of La Jolla reviews his legacy in medicine at UCSD


Harold J. Simon, M.D., Ph.D., a founding member of the UCSD School of Medicine faculty and a leader in the field of international health and health policy, recently retired after more than four decades of service. He was one of the first academics to understand the importance of global health training in medicine, and today more than 50 medical schools across North America offer education in global health.

The Harold Simon Chair in Global Public Health was established in 2001 in recognition of his contributions in the field of global health, from his role in the design of health care systems serving developing countries, to his leadership in initiating cultural awareness training as part of the medical student experience.

Dr. Simon specialized in infectious diseases and prevention of hospital infections. He has lectured throughout the world, and has traveled extensively as a public health adviser to many developing countries.

What brought you to La Jolla?

It was the founders’ vision for UC Diego, the nascent medical school and the stellar faculty to be recruited. For myself, the opportunity to begin at the beginning; the chance to do international medicine and the almost unlimited opportunity to start and establish the office of student affairs, student recruitment and admissions, curriculum planning and evaluation and financial aid. La Jolla was, and is, a wonderful place to raise, educate, and sustain the family.

What makes this area special to you?

UC San Diego’s founders’ determination to recruit and support a stellar faculty; the close interactions and collaborations between the general campus and the medical school; the siren song sung by my recruiters; the physical setting; the opportunities inherent in close associations with the Salk Institute, the VA, the bio-technical industry growing by leaps and bounds; and the proximity to Mexico for cross-cultural study and collaboration.

What might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

Better access to parking; light rail between the campus, the city center and the East County, a sea water to potable water conversion facility, and formidable efforts toward solar power.

Who or what inspires you?

See Question 5, below, also the students and my co-workers along with the missions, history, growth, development, governance, structure and functions of the University of California.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

I would ask Francis Crick, Goethe, Spinoza, Churchill, James Fenimore Cooper, Abraham Lincoln, Sir William Osler, and Thomas Mann.

What are you reading?

Medical and scientific journals (American Journal of Med; the Journal of Infectious Disease; Clinical Infectious Diseases; Science) and global news and commentary as presented in The Economist and Der Spiegel.

What is your most-prized possession?

Not any object … instead, recollections about my mentors, collaborators, students, travel and other aspects of my long career — especially my three years at Rockefeller University, my 17 years as a member of the Board of Governors of the Technion in Israel, and of St. George’s Medical School on Grenada in the Caribbean.

What is your distinguishing characteristic?

That my insatiable appetite for new knowledge.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

The establishment, development and functioning of UCSD School of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs and its diverse functions. These include recruitment and admissions policies and practices that sometimes deviated from generally accepted ones. There were also some firsts in my infectious disease career at Stanford and in my pedagogic activities at UC San Diego.

What is your philosophy of life?

I believe in working with and furthering the development of young people toward defining and achieving their career objectives, combating discrimination on whatever grounds, and striving for excellence in every dimension.