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Dr. CharlotteSilverman

Year of Birth / Death

1913 - 2003

Medical School

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania



Career Path

Internal medicine: Epidemiology
Dr. CharlotteSilverman


I was interested in public service and in medicine. There was also some family motivation.


Dr. Charlotte Silverman built her career in epidemiology at a time when new developments in the filed brought many benefits and unkown risks. As an associate chief at the Food and Drug Administration she helped test and monitor these innovations and their long-term consequences.

Born in New York City in 1913, Charlotte Silverman attended one of the few medical schools in the country accepting women at the time, the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, from which she obtained her medical degree in 1938. She completed her residency in 1941, just as the United States was entering World War II.

Dr. Silverman's earliest field work as an epidemiologist was with the Tuberculosis Control Division of the United States Public Health Service in 1943. It was not until the following year that the first successful antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis was available. She continued to work on tuberculosis, one of the top public health issues of the time, for the departments of public health of Boston, Massachusetts, and Baltimore, Maryland, where she was director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis from 1950 to 1956. After working as division chief for the Maryland State Department of Health, Dr. Silverman joined the National Institute of Mental Health in 1962, where her research on depression culminated in the publication of her authoritative text, The Epidemiology of Depression in 1968.

That same year Dr. Silverman was named associate chief of the Epidemiology and Population Studies Program at the Bureau of Radiological Health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While working at the FDA, Dr. Silverman evaluated the effectiveness and safety of radiological products and devices, including the long-term biologic effects of X-rays and non-ionizing radiation. She also researched the health effects of electromagnetic fields created by electrical power lines, and other medical imaging technologies, including mammography. She retired from the FDA in 1986.

In 1973, Dr. Silverman studied the effects of exposure to microwave radiation (radar). Her work suggested the usefulness of studying the topic for information it might provide on possible links between the use of the cellular telephone and cancer.

Dr. Silverman loved the diversity afforded by her work and career. In 1996, to commemorate her time at Johns Hopkins University, she established the Charlotte Silverman Fund in the Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The fellowship supports outstanding students and junior faculty whose focus is on epidemiology and policy, and has been given every year since 1997.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

At that time [1930s and 1940s], there was a question of whether or not women should or could be in medicine. It was predominantly a male field. Also, there was an issue of whether or not I had the money to pursue medicine as a career.

How do I make a difference?

My work focused primarily on public service, in which I'd always been interested.

Who was my mentor?

I've known many people who influenced my life and career, but two come to mind at the moment, both of whom broadened my view of public health. The first is Henry Sigerist, who was a professor of the history of medicine at Hopkins, and the second is Anna Baetjer, who was in industrial hygiene and instrumental in the founding of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

How has my career evolved over time?

My career continued to take me deeper into the realm of research and public health, as I always was into research medicine. This satisfied several of my interests concerning medicine and science. My M.D. allowed me the opportunity to do some public good while pursuing my interests.