As a combat medic in Vietnam, Jan Abshire, MPH ‘89, fell in love with health care. After being discharged, he became a respiratory therapist, married and started a family in his native Oklahoma.
But when the AIDS epidemic took hold, Jan felt a calling to do something to help stop the disease’s growing toll. So despite his dyslexia, he went to night school and finished his bachelor’s degree and then moved his family to New Haven so he could attend the Yale School of Public Health.
“I was front row center for that,” says his son, Jonathan, who established the Jan Abshire Scholarship Fund in his father’s memory. “We moved when I was 14, so I grew up on campus and even took Japanese at Yale during high school.”
Abshire’s second career included work at the Connecticut Department of Public Health where he finally began working on AIDS. He was then recruited to be a field epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control, where his work focused on reducing AIDS transmission to health care workers. After 9/11, Jan moved into bioterrorism preparedness, and he ended his career as an epidemiologist for the Department of Defense’s Global Influenza Surveillance Program where he was deeply involved in setting up the Sentinel Site program.
This return to the military coincided with Jonathan’s service in the Army. Jan was thrilled to be back with service people, and he loved fitting together the pieces of a mystery, says Jonathan, who is now a management consultant.
The Jan Abshire Scholarship Fund is for graduate students in epidemiology with a preference for students who are military veterans or midcareer students. “People who have been in the military,” says Jonathan, “have discipline and focus and can do a lot for public health. Likewise, midcareer students have something special to offer and some special needs when they return to school. I hope they can pursue their passion for public health without burden to their families.”