Unless you've been in a media blackout, chances are you have seen Keiji Fukuda M.D., '83, quoted in a story or interviewed fielding questions as the key person heading up the H1N1 flu strategy for the World Health Organization (WHO).
A global figure now, Dr. Fukuda's personal roots and professional training are in Vermont. His father, a fifth-generation physician, came from Japan to Vermont for a fellowship and stayed on, making his career and raising his family in Barre.
While an undergrad at Oberlin College, Fukuda fell in love with the cello and hoped to become a filmmaker. But after his sophomore year, his thinking shifted with the experience of nine months of international backpacking. "It made me realize that I loved traveling, I loved being overseas, and I did not want to be a tourist or a voyeur. I wanted to actually do something."
Once Fukuda decided that medicine was his best option, the choice of the UVM College of Medicine was clear. In addition to financial considerations and the fact that he wanted to return to Vermont, "The school itself just seemed right for me," he says. "It has a really humanistic approach to medicine and also in its approach to medical education. It's not gigantic and not too small. There's just something human-sized and human-voiced about the education there."
Between his second and third year of medical school, Fukuda worked with indigenous tribes in South India, confirming his interest in international medicine. "I wanted to work on problems like malaria."
In 1996, working as an officer at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Fukuda was approached by the influenza group to become their epidemiology section chief, an opportunity to "shape a fairly small team and establish a direction," he says. It also bore some similarities to the infectious disease that had first intrigued him because, like malaria, Fukuda says, "It was really not apparent to me how one could ever address something like influenza in terms of how to control it and prevent it."