Union Notables

Sue J. Goldie    class of 1984

Sue Goldie, 2005 MacArthur Fellow press photograph, image courtesy of Lipman Hearne

Life’s epiphanies often rely on serendipity. So it was for Dr. Sue J. Goldie. While at a Faculty Development Program in 1995, she was required to learn and then teach a course. The only available section was in “Decision Science,” an area of study which utilizes methods of evidence synthesis and mathematical models to analyze the consequences—benefits, risks, harms, costs—of different approaches to tackle complex problems. She found herself passionately drawn to this scientific discipline she had never encountered in college or medical school. Now well known for bringing together a wide variety of disciplinary approaches to critical global health challenges, her application of Decision Science methods to public health resulted in her being named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005.

After graduating from Union College in 1984, Goldie earned her MD from Albany Medical College (’88) and completed her residency in internal medicine at Yale (’88-91). She spent several years teaching medical residents and caring for patients whose health problems were born largely out of poverty and limited access to care. It was the realization that public health approaches could have greater impact on the health of the poor, and the unexpected introduction to the field of Decision Science, that conspired to shift her career direction. She received her master’s degree in Decision Science and Health Policy from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1997 and joined the faculty the following year. She now directs the Program in Health Decision Science as the Roger Lee Irving Professor of Public Health.

Goldie develops and validates computer-based models linking the basic biology of a disease and its epidemiology to outcomes in large populations. She uses these models to synthesize data, identify key knowledge gaps, and evaluate the public health impact and cost-effectiveness of alternative preventive and treatment interventions. Much of her energy has been spent on three viruses of major public health importance: HIV, hepatitis, and human papilloma virus (HPV). Collectively, these three viruses—together with the conditions they lead to (AIDS, liver disease, and cervical cancer, respectively)—are responsible for tremendous morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Two recent papers highlight how she applies model-based tools to questions in different parts of the world. She recently conducted an analysis that quantified the expected public health benefits of HPV vaccination in the 72 poorest countries, showing that nearly ~10 million lives would be saved by vaccinating young adolescents in the next two decades. Simultaneously, she published a policy analysis of the HPV vaccine in the U.S., identifying the optimal target age for vaccination, assessing the impact of scientific uncertainties, and delineating modifications needed for cervical cancer screening to ensure an efficient, safe, and cost effective prevention program.

Her passion for teaching has remained a constant. With several mentorship awards from Yale and Harvard, her Decision Science class has grown to over 150 students. While identifying herself as both a physician who is passionate about individuals, and a public health scientist who is deeply committed to the health of populations, she emphasizes to her students what is different about a Decision Scientist: “like others, we use the best available scientific evidence, and like others we acknowledge and characterize the impact of uncertainty; but we are driven fundamentally by the question ‘what can we do right now?’”

Along with the demands of her teaching, research, and policy work, she finds time to continue her practice of Tae Kwon Do, the Korean martial art. She has earned three black belts, was nationally ranked, and at one point had to decide whether to try out for the Olympics or go to medical school. Goldie has joked that her proficiency with Tae Kwon Do has helped her immensely in raising her two teenage sons.