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Class Notes

Helping Children Grow Up Healthy

Donald Schwarz strives to improve health by changing kids’ environments.

During his 25-year career as an academic pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania, Donald Schwarz ’82 says it was constantly clear to him that helping his young patients involved looking broadly at the circumstances that affect their lives, rather than just providing medical care. 

Today, as a vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the country’s largest philanthropic organization focused solely on health, he leads a team that helps the foundation allocate money to help children grow up in healthier communities. He and his colleagues are focused particularly on improving social determinants of health and the links between health and community development.

Schwarz got his first exposure to health care careers as a college student, when he got a summer job as a respiratory therapist at his hometown hospital. This was before any professional certification was necessary. "I just loved it," he remembers. "I enjoyed the science a lot, the interpersonal contact, and the ability to think diagnostically and help people by doing that."

Steering his ambitions toward medicine, he started at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1977, earning his M.P.H. at the school of public health between his third and fourth years of medical school.

In 2008, he took a job as Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for health and opportunity. There, he worked to address obesity in children not just through diet and exercise, but through changing the environment in which people live—for example, by improving access to nutritious food and reducing opportunities for smoking. During his six-year tenure, Philadelphia became the first city in America to reduce obesity in children of low socioeconomic status.

Looking back, Schwarz says, "My time at Hopkins has been integral to my entire career. It gave me the mindset to avoid mediocrity, do my best and continue to learn. That’s what I strive to do every day."
Helping Children Grow Up Healthy