Public Health update

April 12, 2013

This week I'm in Orlando attending the Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings of several societies including the American Head & Neck Society, of which I'm vice president. It's great to connect with my fellow otolaryngologists from around the country and learn more about the latest research in my medical specialty, and I am telling everyone about the fantastic things happening at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

I know all of you are eager to hear what's happening with the otolaryngologists in sunny Orlando. But rather than share all of those details, I want to take an opportunity to congratulate the faculty, staff and students in our Master of Public Health program in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, particularly Kansas City site director Tanya Honderick, RN, MPH, who hosted a week-long celebration of National Public Health Week, April 1-7. Events included the regional meeting of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas Affiliates of the American Public Health Association, and a screening of Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, a film that investigates issues within the American health care system, followed by a discussion led by Ed Ellerbeck, M.D., MPH; Megha Ramaswamy, Ph.D., MPH; Catherine Satterwhite, Ph.D., MPH; and Ellen Averett, Ph.D., MHSA. And I appreciated seeing several of our staffers, students and public health partners from around the state pictured with Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed a proclamation recognizing the importance of the week.

Since becoming Executive Vice Chancellor I've been asked about the status of our efforts to create a School of Public Health, so in belated recognition of National Public Health Week I'll provide a bit of a recap here. The Kansas Board of Regents approved our plans for a school in October 2010, generating a fair amount of media attention and excitement. As we noted at the time, such a school would help meet a growing demand for public health providers and researchers while advancing the health and well-being of Kansans. It will also help us better compete for federal grant funding to support health care and public health education, service and research programs. We announced that we would begin fundraising to hire a dean and other faculty.

Since then, we have been proceeding with great care. Envisioning a School of Public Health has been part of our KU Medical Center strategic planning process, and many of our faculty members have spent the last couple of years looking at the structure, administration, financing, and other issues in creating such a school. Just as our Master of Public Health degree program is offered on the Kansas City and Wichita campuses, a School of Public Health would not be a freestanding building but more likely a widespread organization, with programs in Lawrence and on the Edwards Campus and elsewhere at physical sites throughout the state as well as in the virtual world of online education. That model is much more dispersed than some models, and it creates challenges as well as many opportunities.

The plan is to reorganize four existing departments into a School of Public Health: Preventive Medicine and Public Health in Kansas City; Preventive Medicine and Public Health in Wichita; Biostatistics; and Health Policy and Management. These four departments are home to more than 45 faculty members who are actively engaged in public health education, service and research. Currently, the four departments have more than $30 million in grant support.

An accredited School of Public Health needs five MPH concentrations in the traditional five public health disciplines and three doctoral programs. There is some flexibility with how a school defines the five core areas (for example, KU opted to have an MPH in Public Health Management, whereas other universities may have an MPH in health services to meet this particular core area). Our five MPH concentrations are in Social and Behavioral Health, Environmental Health Sciences, Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Public Health Management. And we have two of the three Ph.D. programs in place: Biostatistics, and Health Policy and Management. The Departments of Preventive Medicine and Public Health in Kansas City and Wichita, in collaboration with the Lawrence campus, are working on a third Ph.D. program, which has not been finalized.

Meanwhile, we are deeply grateful to the Kansas Health Foundation, which made a generous contribution last fall of $1.5 million to support the effort.

One of my promises to the people of Kansas is to expand the state's 21st century workforce, and that certainly includes the public health workforce. Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. KU Medical Center is proud to be strong in all of these areas and looking forward to growing even stronger.

Last modified: Apr 12, 2013