Department’s New Name Reflects Core Focus on Public Health

September 26, 2012

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, one of the nation’s pioneers in the field of public health, has been renamed the Department of Public Health Sciences. The change was approved by the URMC Board of Directors on September 20, 2012.  

“This new name will provide greater clarity, visibility, understanding of the nature of our department’s mission and the focus of our education and research programs,” said Susan Fisher, M.S., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences.

Susan Fisher, M.S., Ph.D.

The department was established as a component of the URMC School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1955 as the nation was awakening to the importance of population-scale health interventions in the wake of the development of a vaccine for polio and the academic discipline now recognized as “public health” began to emerge. The department’s early years were shaped by Drs. Albert Kaiser and Robert Berg, two community-oriented physicians, whose vision for the department led to a focus on infectious disease, care for the disadvantaged, and health promotion and prevention. 

In the ensuing years and under the direction of subsequent chairs, including Drs. Charles Phelps, Thomas Pearson, and Fisher, the department expanded its research and educational programs, particularly in the fields of epidemiology and health services. Today the department consists of four divisions – Epidemiology, Social and Behavioral Medicine, Health Policy and Outcomes Research, and Healthcare Management – with 24 full-time primary faculty and 45 secondary faculty.   About 120 students are enrolled in the department’s two doctoral and three masters programs.

The department attracts approximately $6 million in external research funding per year which fund investigations across a broad spectrum of public health, including obesity in children, smoking cessation, cardiovascular disease, cancer screening and prevention, the impact of environmental exposures on child development, the health impact of pollution, maternal and infant health, and the quality and cost of care.  

In several universities, these functions have eventually been spun off into separate, free standing schools of public health. While this scenario has been discussed in Rochester on several occasions, the advantages of keeping the department within the School of Medicine and Dentistry – common leadership and vision and the opportunity to more easily collaborate with other faculty and departments – have won the argument.

“While this integration is best for the department, there is still the need to identify the work being done in the department as being ‘public health’ specific,” said Fisher. “This is both for the benefit of external faculty who may be confused about the nature of our work because of the previous name and for students exploring educational opportunities in public health.”

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