Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Susan P. Baker, M.P.H.
MSA SC 3520-14530

Susan Pardee Baker was born in Atlanta, Georgia on May 31, 1930 to Charles Laban and Susan Lowell Pardee.  As a child, Baker moved with her parents to Catonsville, Maryland, where she lived until she enrolled in Cornell University, in New York.  In 1951 Baker graduated from Cornell with a degree in zoology – a degree that introduced her into the field of medicine, eventually leading her to pioneer work in injury epidemiology.  Incidentally, it was also in 1951 that Baker married Timothy D. Baker and returned to Maryland.1

Upon returning to Maryland, Baker entered Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree in public health in 1968.  Interestingly, Baker never earned a degree beyond this and once commented that:

I didn’t get my master’s until I was 38 and I wanted to get out there and do things, not just work for another degree.  I kept thinking if there was ever anything that I really wanted to do and couldn’t without a doctorate, I’d stop and get it.2

One of Baker’s colleagues, Stephen Teret who worked with Baker at the Hopkins Injury Prevention Center, noted that the lack of a doctorate did not stop Baker from pioneering in her field.  Teret remarked that, “Her accomplishments, including becoming a full professor at Johns Hopkins, are all the more remarkable because of not having a Ph.D.”3

Although she was initially interested in cancer epidemiology, Baker traveled with her husband to Annapolis to hear his testimony as an expert witness on issues relating to drunken driving laws in Annapolis.  She was stunned by the information that she heard and that the public health field was not more involved in such issues of public safety.  Baker remembered her shock and interest, “it really hit me that there was nothing, virtually nothing being done at our School of Public Health on this enormous problem.  And it was a really interesting field.”4

Unfortunately for Baker, injury epidemiology did not really exist as a field in the 1960s, so she was forced to develop the field as she went along, working in a medical examiner’s office to retrieve raw data regarding injuries and deaths in various situations.  Baker has continued to stress the importance of medical examiner records, noting that, “Without the work of medical examiners I could not do my job.  I convert what they learn from examination of the body into policy and practice that keeps others from being killed the same way.”5

Working from these medical records, Baker became an integral part of the injury field.  Stephen Teret described her important role: “What Darwin was to Darwinism, Sue Baker is to injury prevention.  Her name’s synonymous with the field.  She’s known worldwide for her accomplishments.”6

Baker’s approach to injury prevention highlights the importance of making a product safe for consumers, regardless of whether it is used properly or improperly.  She also shies away from the word ‘accident’ itself, claiming that:

Accident is misleading.  It makes us think chance is playing an enormously important role and we can’t keep injuries from occurring.  We tend to focus all our interest on an event rather than on the human damage we are trying to prevent.  It also evokes questions of who is to blame, and that is almost counterproductive.  The big question is: ‘How do you keep people from getting hurt?’7

It is precisely this emphasis on the factors that potentially increase the risk of injury that motivated the writing of one of Baker’s most notable publications, The Injury Fact Book, which examines death statistics from 1930 to 1980.  Baker and her colleagues examined such data as economic status, urbanization, age, race, sex, geographic location and time.  Interestingly, while Baker’s work found only a “slight drop” in fatalities for those under 45, she noted that advances in medicine resulted in a sharp decline in corresponding fatalities from disease, indicating that although modern medicine is contributing to a decrease in death from disease, it is lagging in the area of injury.8

Important early work by Baker has led to the development of specialized injury trauma centers within hospitals, as her research indicated the importance of transporting injured victims to hospitals with proper equipment and specially trained medical personnel, rather than simply to the nearest hospital, as was the case prior to the 1970s.9  Baker has also worked tirelessly on the issue of child seatbelt laws, particularly after she discovered that children under the age of one have higher automobile related mortality rates than any other group prior to their teenage years.  This issue seems to be one of Baker’s more passionate causes and she once commented that, “It's not just that we’re trying to persuade parents to put their children in child seats or that we hope that doctors will talk to individual patients about wearing seatbelts…but that we’re reaching out to try to really change some of the policies that have a far-reaching effect.”10

Baker has also been involved in other research areas including, the role of cigarettes in house fire deaths of nonsmokers, relationship between alcohol and homicide, the use of drugs and medications in adolescent suicide, the prevention of injuries on Native American reservations, the etiology of falls in nursing homes, the epidemiology of fatal occupational injuries and geographic variations in mortality.11  Other work includes research on pedestrian deaths, carbon monoxide poisoning, drowning, childhood asphyxiation, housefires, homicide, suicide, fatal occupational injuries.12

Susan Baker’s work led her to serve as vice chairman of the Committee on Trauma of the National Academy of Sciences, where she was one of the driving forces behind a second major publication, Injury in America.  In this office, Baker used her power to “carry to the press and to Congress the book’s urgent message that trauma is a sorely neglected problem of immense and costly dimensions.”13  This book and Baker’s lobbying led Congress to establish centers for injury control within the Centers for Disease Control as well as to fund “centers of excellence and major research projects across the nation,” which included the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Susan Baker.14

In 1987, Baker founded the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which focused on a public health approach as a means of identifying injury risk factors, with a goal of designing, implementing and evaluating prevention and rehabilitation programs.  One example of the work to emerge from this program focused on the associated risk between the numbers of individuals in a car and automotive accidents.  This work ultimately manifested itself in a more strictly graduated program of licensing for teenage drivers.15

Baker is strongly committed to her research to the point of learning several fields from the inside to better understand the factors that influence risk of injury.  For example, Baker learned how to drive a tractor-trailer at a General Motors proving ground in Arizona with the National Highway Safety Advisory Committee, to which she was appointed by President Ford.16  Similarly, while studying injuries and fatalities in small plane crashes, Baker became a licensed pilot to complement her research on crashes in the Colorado Rockies and on commuter aircraft crashes as well as crashes on instructional flights.17

Baker has been widely recognized for her many contributions to the field of injury analysis and prevention.  Dr. William Haddon, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety described her contributions:

She has made a major contribution to injury control in a number of respects.  She has disturbed a lot of bureaucrats who prefer not to recognize some of the problems.  Her work on carbon monoxide deaths is outstanding; she has studied the role of alcohol in truck crashes; she has studied people who died in hospitals for medically unnecessary reasons, after they had been in crashes and reached the hospital alive; and she has done important work, in collaboration with others, on ways of classifying severities of injuries people have sustained.18

Baker’s work has taken her to various locations around the world, one of which was the international conference at the Technicon in Israel where she delivered a paper on pedestrian safety. Baker also traveled to Australia on one occasion for an international conference on alcohol, drugs and traffic safety.19  Baker’s work and prestige within her field have also led her to found injury control programs at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Minnesota, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.20

Susan P. Baker has received many awards for her work.  In 1974, she was awarded the Prince Bernhard Medal for a dissertation titled “Characteristics of Fatally Injured Drivers.”  The honor was accompanied by a cash prize delivered by the Price of Utrecht.21  In 1985, Baker earned the Stone Lecture award from the American Trauma Society, as well as an Award of Merit from the American Association for Automotive Medicine for her contributions to “the epidemiologic study of road-related trauma.”22  In 1989 Baker received the prestigious Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health.23

In addition to the above honors, Baker was also given the American Trauma Society’s Distinguished Achievement Award, the Johns Hopkins’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, and an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, among others.24  Baker was also the first director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006.25  Ironically, Baker was named “Bad Guy of the Month” by Road Rider Magazine because of her insistence on the importance of helmet laws.26

Baker’s work within the field of injury is important in and of itself in terms of its impact on fatality statistics, however, the fact that she pioneered this work in a time when few women were thriving within the medical profession, and did so with merely a master’s degree, makes her contributions all the more important and impressive. 


1. Gerri Kobren, “Sometime’s It’s Safety Last,” Sun Magazine c. 22 May 1977.Pamela M. Kalte, Katherine H. Nemeh, Noah Schusterbauer, ed, American Men and Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today’s Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences (New York: Thompson Gale, 2005), 309.

2. Randi Henderson.“Her Career’s No Accident.”The Baltimore Sun, 3 December 1989, 1H.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Kobren, 309.

6. Henderson.

7. Kobren, 309.

8. "Fatal Injuries Little Subdued in Past Decades,"Associated Press, The Baltimore Sun, 5 July 1984, 14D.

9. "Susan P. Baker," Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

10. Henderson.

11. "Susan P. Baker," Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

12. “Susan Baker, Professor, Director, NIAAA Training Program in Alcohol, Injury, and Violence,”Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School  of Public Health,, Accessed on 15 June 2006.

13. "Susan P. Baker," Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

14. Ibid.

15. Dennis O'Brien, "Limits on Teen Drivers Backed: Hopkins Study Shows Fewer Deaths in States that Restrict 16-Year-Olds," The Baltimore Sun, 3 July 2006.

16. Kobren, 309.

17. "Acclaimed Safety Researcher Reflects on Pioneers in Injury Field," The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center,, Accessed on 27 June 2006.

18. Kobren.

19. Kobren.

20. "Susan P. Baker, MPH, SCD (Hon): Editorial Board Member Brief Biography," Injury Prevention, Vol. Six, 2000, 234; "Susan P. Baker," Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

21. Kalte, 309.

22. Ibid.

23. Kalte, 309; "Susan P. Baker, MPH, SCD (Hon): Editorial Board Member Brief Biography."

24. "Susan P. Baker, MPH, SCD (Hon): Editorial Board Member Brief Biography.".

25. "Names in the News," The Baltimore Sun, 17 March 2006.

26. "Susan P. Baker: Editorial Board Member Brief Biography."

Biography written by 2006 summer intern Amy Huggins.

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