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Alumni Stories: Robert Patterson '85

Promoting Public Health Through Forty Countries

by Rebekah A. Rombom '08patterson

Rob Patterson ’85 reached his current career - international consulting and project management on public health issues - by a route that has taken him through over 40 countries including Iceland, Croatia, Botswana and Morocco. The French and biology major is fluent in three languages, and even during his time at Dartmouth, Patterson participated in two foreign study programs in Europe.

Patterson has been mapping his own career path since high school, when he founded and ran a home improvement firm. Though it was a long way from managing public health programs in Third World nations, Patterson’s start-up is indicative of his entrepreneurial spirit, which led him into public health as a respected independent consultant.

“I’ve gotten one or two jobs from applying, but everything else has been going to conferences, networking and just walking up to people,” he says. “Just being human with people.”

His graduate program at Johns Hopkins University, where he earned dual Master’s degrees at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, incorporated three different locales into his schedule. Before Patterson left graduate school, he had lived and studied in France, Italy (twice) Washington D.C., Baltimore and Hanover

By the time he began his graduate studies at Hopkins, he was characteristically on the lookout for prospective jobs there.“I saw the opportunity to begin teaching some of the [international health program] professors French,” he says, “and to get my fingers into some other [public health] consultancies while I was there.” Patterson consulted through graduate school, ending in 1991.

He maintained such a positive relationship with Hopkins, as well as with Dartmouth and his high school, the Friends School of Baltimore, that he has consulted or served on the alumni boards at of all three institutions at various points after he graduated. And those sorts of relationships, Patterson says, are what have allowed him to build a successful career outside of a corporate infrastructure.

By the end of 1994, he decided to build upon an existing contract with Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, abstracting and indexing scientific and academic journal articles on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and other public health topics. So, in early 1995, Patterson settled in Montreal, where he remained through 2003, reviewing and writing thousands of synopses for JHU’s database, as well as working with private sector clients.

By 2004, Patterson was ready to return to the United States and dive into international public health from the project design and management side. Since then, he has served as a Senior HIV/AIDS Development and Program Specialist, directing multimillion dollar HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Botswana and providing technical assistance to similar projects in South Africa, and as a consultant to UNICEF and Orphanage Africa, Ghana. Most recently, Patterson has worked with the World Bank to help identify proposals for funding and scale-up within and across developing countries.

“What it really takes to get a project on the ground, a lot of that is networking and diplomacy,” according to Patterson, and he has experience abounding in both areas. But that experience isn’t as easy to gain as it once was.

“To get to where you’re managing programs in the field,” he says, “you need to have a graduate degree, foreign languages and foreign country experience. A company can turn down PhD-certified job applicants without the languages and field experience.”

“I’m very flexible,” he says, “whether it be remaining in Washington or moving to Europe or moving to Africa.”

Patterson started early gaining that experience, and has been well-served by his flexibility, proving that he is valuable to foreign projects, even with the increasing reliance on already-established organizations and locals in less-developed countries.

But even someone who welcomes international work and diverse cultures needs to know where he’ll be resting his head every once in a while. “All right,” Patterson said as he rose from a chair in the Collis Center after an interview. “Looking forward to getting back home.”

Last Updated: 6/21/12