New doctorate paves way for public health school

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A doctoral program in health services research – which would expand the Department of Community Health and bring the University one step closer to establishing a full-fledged school of public health – has been approved by the faculty.

The program was approved by a unanimous faculty vote Feb. 6 following a presentation by Associate Professor of Community Health Kate Lapane PhD’95, who largely designed the curriculum. The program must be approved by the Corporation before it can admit doctoral candidates.

There are currently two doctoral programs in the Department of Community Health – biostatistics and epidemiology. Health services research was selected as the next doctoral program “because we already have a critical mass of faculty in place,” said Vincent Mor, professor of medical science and chair of the Department of Community Health.

“The Department of Community Health has had a strong group of researchers doing work that is generally thought of as health services research coming from multiple disciplines,” he said.

Mor emphasized that such interdisciplinary work will be an integral component of the new doctoral program and said he anticipates doctoral candidates will collaborate with different University departments, including economics and sociology.

Adding a third doctoral program in the department satisfies a key criterion for the establishment of an accredited school of public health at the University. Both Mor and Terrie “Fox” Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy and professor of community health, stressed that several important steps remain. The department is working to determine what additional academic and administrative decisions need to be made in order now, they said.

The public health school is slated to be established by 2010, according to a July 2006 article in The Herald. Mor said that goal is “still achievable,” noting that the program is “more or less on target in terms of faculty recruitment, growth of student body, et cetera.” But, he said, “We don’t want to a have a rush towards an artificial date dictate how well we do things. “

Establishing a school of public health gives the University “membership in a club that is relatively restricted,” Mor said. Accreditation from the Council on Education in Public Health would place it among “the top research groups in the world of schools of public health, which would increase our visibility and stature in some important ways,” Mor said.

Since its inception in the 1960s, the field of health services research has grown to consider “the manner in which the organization of health services, how they are financed and how they are regulated affects the experience of individuals and how it affects various aspects of the economy,” Mor said.

A major goal of the field is to judge “how we can make the system of care more efficient,” Wetle said. “In order to improve the health care system, we have to understand what works and what doesn’t work,” she added.

Researchers in the field supplement clinical studies with the consideration of social factors – including differences in insurance coverage, cultural values and geographic location – that influence how individuals interact with the health care system. Researchers in the field also analyze the ways in which national and local politics influence public health and evaluate the effectiveness of different health care systems worldwide.

Students who earn a doctorate degree in health services research have “a wide array of opportunities,” Wetle said, ranging “from academic research jobs all the way through applied practical improvement of health care delivery systems on the supply side.”

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