SJPS Spotlight on Excellence: Dr. Michael VanRooyen

Dr. Michael VanRooyen in Darfur

Dr. Michael VanRooyen in Darfur. He graduated from SJHS in 1980.

College degrees: Michigan State University (BS); Wayne State Medical School (MD); University of Illinois (MPH); Harvard Medical School (MS)

Profession: Director of The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; serves as a professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health; Vice Chairman of Emergency Medicine: Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass.

As an emergency physician and epidemiologist, Dr. VanRooyen has worked extensively in humanitarian assistance in more than 30 countries affected by war and disaster including Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, North Korea, Darfur-Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has worked both as a physician and a policy advisor with numerous relief organizations including CARE, Save the Children, Physicians for Human Rights and Samaritans Purse International Relief. Additionally, Dr. VanRooyen has served as a special advisor for the World Health Organization and as a member of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee's Health Cluster.

Domestically, Dr. VanRooyen worked with the American Red Cross to provide relief assistance at the site of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th. He also helped to coordinate the American Red Cross public health response to Hurricane Katrina, and oversaw the development of a 400 bed surgical field hospital in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Dr. VanRooyen has authored more than 70 publications related to international emergency medicine development and humanitarian assistance, and has served on numerous advisory panels and boards including International Rescue Committee, the National Academies/GAO and UN advisory groups. For information on The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, visit

How did your education at SJPS influence your career choice and life direction? We are all a product of our families and our early experiences. Those influences develop our ability to set a course and pursue it. SJHS gave me a glimpse of a much larger world, and the confidence to step out into it.

Who are several teachers or staff who had a positive impact on your life? Bob Koger was a major factor in convincing me to study pre-med. He convinced me that if I wanted something enough, and was willing to throw myself at it, it was achievable.

What SJPS academic, athletics and activities help to promote "excellence" in your career? I was strongly influenced by the wonderful science curriculum and its great teachers - Gary Kingsley, Gary Larson, Mike Gehoski - and by the drama program.

How did your education at SJPS shape you as a person; broaden your horizons; promote "excellence" in your daily life? One of the most important things I learned from my time at SJHS was to treat everyone the same, and to have friendships with people from different classes, teams, clubs, and social groups. SJHS gave me an incredibly strong academic foundation, and an even stronger sense of social fluency that made all the difference in my college and professional years.

Dr. VanRooyen's comments: "I'm most interested in trying to help populations in a moment of extreme vulnerability including war, displacement, and disaster, and to find ways to provide faster, better, and more targeted humanitarian aid for victims of conflict and crisis. It's been my great privilege to work as an ER doctor in the US and a relief worker in countries affected by war and disaster."

"SJPS Spotlight on Excellence," a monthly feature provided by St. Johns Schools Foundation for Excellence, focuses on St. Johns Public School alumni whose professional careers and personal accomplishments underscore the link between education and the development of well-rounded citizens whose lives have a positive impact on their communities and individuals far and wide.