The magazine of the UW School of Public Health

From the Dean

Taking Stock: Looking Back & Forward

Patricia Wahl

In this issue of Northwest Public Health we stop to reflect, to look back at where we’ve been, and to think about future challenges. The timing is good for taking stock. This year the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice (NWCPHP) turns 20, and our Extended Degree Program observes 30 years of conferring MPH degrees on working professionals. The School itself marks its 40th anniversary—and I plan to step down as Dean of the School in September.

My first Dean’s message for what was then Washington Public Health appeared in the Summer 1999 issue. I had been appointed Dean in February, and I had expanded the School’s leadership team to include three part-time associate deans—Fred Connell for academic affairs, Dave Eaton for research, and Mark Oberle for public health practice. We were about to engage the entire School in a strategic planning process to guide us over the next decade, and we were actively extending our outreach to the practice community.

Since then we have appointed new chairs, Emily White succeeded Dave Eaton, and we created the Department of Global Health. We have a strong, productive leadership team; we continue to attract outstanding students to our School’s excellent academic programs; we compete very successfully on the research front; and, thanks in large measure to NWCPHP initiatives, our collaborative relationships throughout the region are strong.

Through strategic planning we leveraged our strengths in the areas of public health genetics and genomics, public health informatics, global health, and nutrition. Of particular note among our new educational programs is our highly successful Community-Oriented Public Health Practice MPH program (COPHP), developed in response to the need expressed by local and state health departments for graduates trained in public health practice. COPHP educates our future workforce using problem-based learning and extensive student engagement with public health agencies.

As we look to the future, one of the more exciting developments in recent years, locally and nationally, is the increasing undergraduate demand for public health, nutrition, and global health. We hope eventually to offer an undergraduate degree in Global Public Health with options in Public Health, Nutrition, and Global Health—yet another way of helping to meet the need for new members of our public health workforce.

The two major challenges our School continues to face are resources in the form of space and state funds. If we were not scattered over nearly 20 locations throughout the city, we could better build on our sense of community and reinforce the shared sense of purpose that unites our diverse disciplines and invigorates the field of public health. And with adequate state funds, we could support our academic programs without using funds derived from our research grants—monies that should go toward building our research programs and helping junior faculty develop successful research proposals.

As a field, public health has faced numerous challenges over the past decade—some of them unknown in the 1990s. Responding to new and unforeseen challenges offers our field and our School exciting opportunities. The commitment and excellence of our faculty, students, and staff have built this School’s reputation, and our partnership with the practice community has enhanced our mutual strengths. There’s every reason to believe we will continue to be successful in the future.

Patricia W. Wahl, Dean
UW School of Public Health