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UW School of Public Health lays out ambitious plan for the future

Over the next eight years, the University of Washington’s School of Public Health will seek to strengthen its existing programs while at the same time launch a series of ambitious initiatives to meet emerging local, national and global health challenges, according to the school’s new strategic plan.

In an interview with LocalHealthGuide, the school’s dean, Dr. Howard Frumkin, said a new strategic plan was needed to enable the school to meet the “very big, cross-cutting challenges facing public health,” ranging from the rise of new technologies, such as genomics, to looming global problems, such as climate change.

The document, University of Washington School of Public Health: Strategic Plan 2012-2020, is the result of a nearly year-long process that involved discussions involving the school’s faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders.

“We began with a focus on big, bold, new ideas that would orient us to next few decades of public health challenges,” Dr. Frumkin said, “But what emerged over time was a concern that by focusing on those big, emerging challenges we would neglect the enormous strengths that we already have.”

A major concern, Dr. Frumkin said, was that at a time when state funding for higher education is being slashed and federal funding is leveling off the school’s core programs could be undermined if ambitious new programs began to draw on diminishing resources.

To address those concerns, Dr. Frumkin said, the plan takes a two-pronged approach that aims to strengthen the school’s “core” teaching, research and service programs while also moving to address the new challenges of the coming decades.

In the end, “we came to a very robust consensus on a balance between our existing assets and the new directions in which we want to move,” Dr. Frumkin said.

Seven goals to strengthen the school’s core programs

  • Strengthen Teaching
  • Strengthen Research
  • Strengthen Collaborations with Community Partners
  • Globalize the School
  • Improve Diversity
  • Enhance School Community
  • Promote the School

Although the school’s core teaching program is already very strong, Dr. Frumkin said, more needs to be done to incorporate new science into the curriculum and develop the cross-disciplinary approaches that will be needed to address the “upstream” issues that affect health, Dr. Frumkin said.

“Improving health means you have to have a broad, collaborative, interdisciplinary approach where public health expertise might, for example, be blended with social work expertise, urban design expertise, educational approaches, and so on,” Dr. Frumkin said. All new courses will in include curricula that include a broader, big picture approach, he said.

UWSPH Fast Facts:

  • Founded in 1970
  • 1,014 students (76% women, 7% international, 30% minority)
  • 208 undergraduates, 806 graduate students
  • Faculty: 251 full, 147 adjunct, 476 affiliate & clinical – 874 total
  • Departments: Biostatistics, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Epidemiology, Global Health, Health Services
  • $130.8 million (69% Federal Grants & Contracts, 15% State & Local Funds, 1% Gifts & Endowments, 14% Foundations, Industry, etc.)
  • Ranked sixth in the nation in the 2011 US News and World Report survey of graduate schools of public health, and third among publicly funded schools of public health.

Hitting the ground

Students will also receive more training in practical policy implementation, said Dr. Frumkin. “The employers are telling us that our students are very good at analytics and that they are very good at working with data, but they don’t necessarily have the practical skills, ranging from creating and managing budgets to going to the county commission and making the case for a public health program,” Dr. Frumkin said. “When you hit the ground and begin practicing public health, you have to have a whole set of skills that aren’t really captured by a more academic approach.”

As part of an effort to develop such skills, the school will broaden its collaborations with local agencies and community organizations, especially through the school’s student practicum programs, Dr. Frumkin said.

Such programs and other initiatives will increase the school’s involvement in communities around the state and region, he said.

Bio: Dr. Howard Frumkin

Dr. Frumkin has a special interest in environmental health, climate change and healthy community design.

Before he was appointed dean of the UW School of Public Health in 2010, he served at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2005-2010, where he was the first director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and later served as Special Assistant to the CDC Director for Climate Change and Health.

From 1990-2005, Dr. Frumkin was Professor and Chair of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Emory Medical School.

His research interests include: the public health aspects of the built environment, climate change, energy policy, and nature contact; the toxic effects of chemicals; and environmental health policy.

He has co-edited or co-authored a number of books, including:

Diversity

Although the school already has a significant number of minority and international students, more can be done to make the school more diverse in culture and outlook, Dr. Frumkin said.

As part of the effort to promote diversity, the school plans to expand its outreach to local high schools, community colleges and other institutions by offering courses and other programs designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in public health.

“Through such conduits or pipelines, I think we can build pathways through which students from under-represented groups can get into public health and serve their communities,” Frumkin said.

Emerging Challenges

  • Global Environmental Change and Human Health
  • Genomics and Public Health
  • Obesity, Food, Physical Activity, and Health
  • Health Policy and Health Systems
  • Public Health Implementation Science
  • Social Determinants of Health

Emerging Challenges:

The health effects of global environmental change are a particular interest of Dr. Frumkin and he believes the school already is well positioned to become a world leader in the field.

The UW’s Department of Global Health, for example, has already launched a “Climate Change and Global Health” initiative, which is focusing on threats to food and water security due to climate changes, he noted.

The school will also be able to harness the existing expertise of such programs as UW’s Colleges and Schools of Environment, Built Environments and Engineering.

Genomics and public health

The school is also well-placed to become a leader in the application of genetics and genomic science to public health, Dr. Frumkin said, with its Institute for Public Health Genetics and  Center for Genomics & Public Health and the opportunity to collaborate with the researchers at other UW programs, such as the Department of Genome Sciences and the School of Medicine’s Northwest Institute of Genetic Medicine and the Northwest Genomics Center.

Socioeconomic determinants of health

Although listed last, an effort to address the socioeconomic determinants of health will be a important part of the school’s plan to tackle “upstream” problems that directly affect health, such as education, living conditions and access to community services,  Dr. Frumkin said.

“If you’re committed to improving health, you can’t avoid people’s circumstances,” he said. ”We know the poverty is the most accurate predictor of bad health.”

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