Passion for public health

College of Public Health alumnus Jacob Gayle works to increase access to health care for underserved populations around the world.


  • Erinn Aulfinger
July 12, 2019
Jacob Gayle, PhD, MS ’82 (Photo courtesy of Jen Kelly, KeliComm Headshots)
Jacob Gayle, PhD, MS ’82 (Photo courtesy of Jen Kelly, KeliComm Headshots)

For College of Public Health alumnus Jacob Gayle, PhD, MS ’82, home is not an address.

After living abroad on long-term assignments in South Africa, Switzerland and across the Caribbean, Gayle’s home is beyond the scattered plane tickets, moving boxes and suitcases that have frequented his life, but in the family, friends and memories he found around the world.

As the current vice president of social impact at Medtronic, one of the largest medical technology services and solutions companies, Gayle works to globalize Medtronic’s public health philanthropy and increase access to health care for underserved populations around the world.

Gayle’s passion for public health emerged out of his undergraduate involvement at Oberlin College, on a student task force in anticipation of a 1976 swine flu outbreak. Despite public fear, the epidemic was avoided.

“Although the swine flu never happened, it opened my eyes to the fact that I didn't have to be a physician to be able to make an impact on health at a community level,” Gayle said. “I wanted the world to be my patient. It was then that I decided I really wanted to pursue public health. Thanks to swine flu, I was encouraged to look at public health as a future career.”

“I wanted the world to be my patient. It was then that I decided I really wanted to pursue public health." -Jacob Gayle, PhD, MS ’82

The Department of Preventive Medicine — Ohio State’s public health program at the time — stood out to Gayle and provided him with the “close-knit family” and research opportunities he looked for in a graduate program.

“As I began to study more and more about preventive medicine and better understand what my goals were in terms of being able to work on both a domestic and international level, I was so impressed with the Department of Preventive Medicine at Ohio State,” Gayle said. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of programs that allowed a non-clinician to be able to study alongside clinicians in the science of public health. The Ohio State program was really unique at that time.”

Gayle went on to receive a Master of Science in preventive medicine in 1982, a Masters of Arts in community health education in 1984 and a PhD in international and community health in 1986, all from Ohio State. His degrees allowed him to both explore his passion for science and develop his ability to effectively communicate his complex technical knowledge to those in need.

Throughout his career, Gayle worked in various domestic and public health industries and served as the deputy vice president of the Ford Foundation, a senior public health officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an associate professor at Kent State University.

These positions allowed him to see the importance of protecting and promoting public health on a global level. While his career has taken him around the world, Gayle said the “only way we can change global health is person to person and community to community.”

This task, according to Gayle, is more accessible in countries and cultures that view access to health care as a right for citizens rather than a privilege. He said it is easier to implement health advancements in countries such as Western Europe and the Caribbean because “successful public health demands inclusion of all.”

“Public health is the cornerstone of survival,” Gayle said. “One of the lessons I learned from Nelson Mandela was that culture is just a system of traditions that ensures the survival of society. I think of public health as being that universal culture necessary for our global survival.”

According to Gayle, small decisions made by individuals contribute to the overall quality of life for everyone. He credits his current mission to help people understand their individual impact on public health by helping those who have received “extra life” or benefited from medical technology or quality health care, to Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken.

“One of the things that I want to focus on in the next stage of my public health career is to really engage people who have had health challenges to use that ‘extra life’ not only for their own health promotion, but to give back to others who are in need,” Gayle said. “You don’t have to be a physician to contribute. You don’t have to be a health care professional to contribute. You could be a parent, or a teacher, or a neighbor and make a difference in public health. My goal is to have people that have been helped by public health understand how they can now help others.”

Gayle hopes his legacy will be carried on through his family and his dedication to developing the next generation of public health professionals.

“I would love to be known for having inspired and mentored the next generation of global health leaders,” Gayle said. “My goal is that I will be able to contribute and lead the next generation who realize public health is not just about physical health or individual health, but is really about social equality, human rights and social justice, and without those things public health is impossible.”



About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College's divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 24th among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Studies (HOPES) and Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP).