April 2007

School of Public Health and Health Services Celebrates 10 Years

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg kicked off the 10th anniversary celebration for the School of Public Health and Health Services this fall. From left, the school’s founding Dean Richard Riegelman, current Dean Ruth J. Katz, President Trachtenberg, and former Dean Richard Southby.

A public health school located in Washington was a gleam in the eye of Richard Riegelman from the moment he arrived at GW in the mid-1970s to complete his medical training. “I recognized the need on my first day here,” he recalls, “and I saw that GW had the unique ability to meet that need.”

Three decades later the GW School of Public Health and Health Services is celebrating 10 years as the only school of public health in the nation’s capital, offering undergraduate and graduate education, research, and partnerships designed to improve health locally and worldwide.

Before the school’s formal charter in 1997, the building blocks for a school of public health were scattered throughout the University. GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences offered its first master of public health program in 1986. Elsewhere on campus, undergraduate and graduate exercise science programs were available. And the School of Business’ Department of Health Services Management and Policy trained health care managers and leaders, continuing a tradition dating back to the Eisenhower administration, when GW first offered an M.B.A. in hospital administration.

The school was officially chartered with the support and leadership of President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who recalled its formation during the convocation ceremony for new public health students in September 2006. “We had a great need for well-trained public health professionals that would serve the nation and our world,” he told the new students. “Together we made that happen and with your vision and the vision of your deans, we are embarking on the building of a new building for your school.”

“We had to strengthen the existing activities at GW and create a coherent structure in which to house them,” says Riegelman, a physician and faculty member since 1978, who spearheaded the effort to create a school of public health. “Given the resources of GW, our premier location in D.C., and the outstanding reputation of the programs that were already available, it was clear to us that the whole could be a lot greater than the sum of its parts.”

GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services now offers degree programs in seven departments. Doctoral programs, first offered in 1997, prepare students
for leadership and research careers. Public health undergraduate degrees have been available since 2003, making the school a pioneer in a growing academic area. And joint degrees remain a tradition—among other opportunities, students can combine a law degree with an M.P.H. or pursue an M.A./M.P.H. with the Elliott School of International Affairs.

“Our curriculum is a dynamic vehicle for new ideas,” emphasizes Ruth J. Katz, who became dean in 2003. “As the world changes around us, we must be flexible and forward thinking.”

Research is another key mission of the school. Today, the total research portfolio for the school stands at some $35 million. That number reflects a doubling of the size of the research enterprise. The school’s percentage in research growth in recent years is the highest of any school at GW. “Research puts us on the map,” says Alan E. Greenberg, M.D. ’82, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “As we build our portfolio, we are better able to attract new faculty, recruit top graduate students, and enhance our national reputation.”

Last year, the school and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences jointly launched the HIV/AIDS Institute with a mission of establishing GW as a national center of excellence for HIV/AIDS education, research, and clinical care.
Also in 2006, the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health officially joined the school, bolstering its resources to address policies related to women’s health care issues. In addition, the school is home to two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation programs: Urgent Matters, which helps hospitals ease emergency room crowding, and Expecting Success: Excellence in Cardiac Care, which focuses on improving health care for minority Americans. It now counts 20 academic centers and research institutes among its academic programs.

The school also capitalizes on its location in Washington to forge partnerships with local, national, and international public health organizations. “There is probably no place in the world with as much influence on public health as Washington, D.C.,” says John F. Williams, M.D. ’79, Ed.D. ’96, provost and vice president for health affairs. “That environment, and the faculty and students who are drawn to it, make the school an absolutely unique place in which to study.”

Faculty members in each of the school’s departments collaborate extensively with domestic and global policymaking, advocacy, and research agencies based in the city. Adjunct professors, including experts from the World Bank, the Institute
of Medicine, and the D.C. Department of Health, bring real-world perspectives to the classroom.

“The school’s premier location, unique opportunities for education, research and community service, world-class faculty, and diverse student body bring its motto to life—it is truly the Capital Connection to a Healthier World,” says Dean Katz. “From a gleam to a launch to a 10th anniversary, the School of Public Health and Health Services story is one to celebrate.”

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