University of Southern California
keck medicine


Faculty Profile
Making the World a Healthier Place


Jonathan M. Samet, M.D., M.S., is a man driven to make a difference in the health of individuals and whole communities. In his 30 years of scientific research, he has pursued new discoveries to improve environmental health and preventive medicine. At the same time, he has worked tirelessly to provide service that improves public health.

On the scientific front, he has studied indoor and outdoor air pollution, the links between radon and lung cancer, and an array of health issues surrounding active and passive smoking. In turn, he has translated those findings via expert witness testimony in litigation against tobacco interests, written reports such as several U.S. Surgeon General’s Reports, and counsel to legislative leaders at the federal, state and local levels of government.

An international authority on the effects of smoking and air pollution on health, Samet has become founding director of the new USC Institute for Global Health and the Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Keck School of Medicine.

Samet arrived at USC in November from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where since 1994, he served as professor and chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, the largest such department in the country. For the last 10 years, he also directed the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins. He held a joint appointment in the School of Medicine’s Oncology Center and in the
Department of Medicine.

“His international reputation for scientific excellence in the interest of global health includes a tremendous track record of leadership on scientific and advisory boards, a stellar roster of scientific publications, and a deep commitment to excellence in the quest for improved public health around the globe,” says Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, M.D., M.B.A. 

Appointed to the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1997, Samet recently was appointed to chair the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Samet views the environment as the focal point for the new Institute for Global Health. “The damage done to the environment by human activities is no longer a ‘quiet crisis,’” he says. “The institute should move forward with an agenda of capacity building, research and policy formulation that will have immediate impact.”

He says that his decision to join the USC faculty was based on the opportunity to chair the Department of Preventive Medicine, one of the leading such departments within a medical school, and at the same time to lead the development of a model institute for multidisciplinary collaboration in global health.

“I found a perfect match between my view of needs in global health and what USC wants to accomplish as an institution. I also have the opportunity to work with the department, which has many long-term colleagues and friends among its faculty, and to lead its growth and evolution at a time when public health and clinical research are changing rapidly,” he says.

In the Keck School’s Department of Preventive Medicine, research findings have left indelible marks on preventive medicine research, national and international health guidelines, physician practices, cancer screening, preventive methods for people at high risk of developing a chronic disease, and alcohol and tobacco education programs.

Some of Samet’s current research projects include:

  • A multidisciplinary, EPA-funded research center that brings together epidemiologists, biostatisticians, exposure assessors and toxicologists to study how inhaled particles cause premature death and morbidity;

  • A global study on exposures of women and children to secondhand tobacco smoke;

  • Collaboration with Yonsei University in Seoul in a follow-up study of the health of 1.3 million Koreans;

  • A long-term study of sleep-disordered breathing and risk for cardiovascular disease;

  • Studies on non-infectious lung diseases in HIV-infected persons and on the genetic basis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A native of Newport News, Va., Samet earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University. He earned his medical degree at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and later completed a master’s degree at the Harvard School of Public Health.