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he formation of a school of public health at Emory was inevitable, says former University President Jim Laney. An ethicist by training, Laney saw the benefits of such a school to work toward the larger public good. “It wasn’t a question of whether we should do it but rather figuring out the means,” he says.
     Early advocates such as Eugene Gangarosa, Connie Conrad, Tom Sellers, and others had built a core of community health classes in Emory’s medical school into an accredited graduate public health program by the mid-1970s. Talk began on campus of taking it further to a school.
     “Everyone said we should have a school of public health because there was a constellation of stars gathered here.” The brightest star in Atlanta’s galaxy was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
     It was no accident that CDC was adjacent to Emory. Atlanta philanthropist Robert W. Woodruff and President Dwight D. Eisenhower had brokered a deal during the Eisenhower presidency to transfer what was then known as the Communicable Diseases Center to land that Woodruff donated to the federal government. Woodruff had seen firsthand how a public health intervention improved the lives of workers on his farm, Ichauway, in South Georgia, helping them avoid the ravages of malaria that was rampant in the 1930s and 1940s South, and he wanted a strong public health presence in Atlanta.
     Many of the CDC staff offered to teach at Emory. “We had a fine community health program in the medical school,” says Laney, “but nothing that would enable a four-engine jet like CDC to tie into.”
The opportunity to move the program forward came through Robert and George Woodruff’s historic gift to Emory University in 1979. The gift not only established a solid endowment for Emory but also enabled University administrators to create what functioned as an in-house foundation for new initiatives. One of the items high on that strategic wish list was a school of public health.
     Laney gives credit to Woodruff Health Sciences Center leader Charles Hatcher for convincing the medical school it was in their best interest to support the school. “People in the medical school had different priorities,” says Hatcher, “and there was only so much money. Should we put it in molecular biology or water purification? Both were important. It wasn’t fair for public health scientists to compete against medical researchers for funds. They needed a stand-alone school.”
     Emory trustees agreed, and in 1990, they voted to establish Emory’s first new school in 72 years. Ray Greenberg, chairman of the Departments of Biostatistics and Epidemiology in the medical school, became the founding dean of this new school. When the American Cancer Society relocated its national headquarters from New York to Atlanta in 1989, Hatcher found a place to house the new school. The ACS agreed to add one floor to its building, which it then leased to Emory for the School of Public Health for five years. Hatcher knew his space solution was only temporary. “I was sawing off the limb on which I sat,” he says.
    However, it didn’t take long for a permanent home to materialize. Business entrepreneur and Emory supporter O. Wayne Rollins immediately grasped the vision that public health offered, according to Laney, and was interested in being a part of the new venture. Even when Rollins died unexpectedly in 1991, his family upheld that vision and has since continued to support the school that is named for them. “The gifts from the Rollins family meant a lot more than a building,” says Executive Associate Dean Richard Levinson. “It gave us a presence.”
     Associate Dean Kathy Miner, who has been intimately involved with public health at Emory for more than 30 years as a student, faculty member, and administrator, stays true to her former career as a secondary school science teacher when she summarizes the school’s development. “It was like a ball rolling down a hill. Occasionally it would meet some resistance, and we had to give it a push, but once it started going, there was no stopping it.”
Operating on a new level  
     When James Curran arrived at Emory in 1995 to become the second dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, he touted it as the youngest kid on the campus block. In the 10 years since, Curran has a different message.
     “Emory’s public health program has always promised and delivered quality,” says Curran. “But we’ve gone from a time of proving ourselves, of earning respect on campus and in the public health cosmos, to being a valued partner. The reputation of the school has continued to grow, and this high quality has enhanced the value of the degree. The performance of our alumni around the world also has helped increase our reputation.”
     The RSPH is now an established leader on campus and the third largest school in faculty size and second in research dollars. It has brought international experts in AIDS, infectious diseases, nutrition, international health, and cancer prevention to its faculty, and it boasts one of the most global faculty and student bodies at Emory. In the past 10 years, it has added more than 2,600 graduates to its rolls, with those alumni spreading throughout the world to have an impact on health. It attracts some of the brightest public health students from 200 countries and throughout the United States. The RSPH has worked continuously to strengthen its relationship with public health partners not only throughout the University but also in Atlanta, collaborating to make the most of combined resources for public health.
     Whereas Greenberg brought youthful energy and tremendous growth to a new school during his tenure, adding 50 faculty members by 1995, Curran has become for many the defining dean of the RSPH. “He is a marquee leader,” says Levinson. “Jim’s light shines quite brightly, and that halo extends to the school.”
     Curran, who had served as CDC’s AIDS czar and as U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, further bonded connections between the school and the CDC. RSPH students intern at the agency and go on to work there after graduation. The school’s faculty collaborate with the federal agency on joint research projects in environmental health, HIV/AIDS prevention, water safety, and other areas. CDC faculty regularly teach in RSPH classrooms, and many have joined the RSPH faculty upon leaving CDC.
Expanding on early strengths  
For example, CDC epidemiologist Phil Brachman set up CDC’s first field epidemiology training program in Thailand and began teaching in Emory’s MPH program in the 1980s. He joined the faculty full-time when he retired from CDC. His first office at Emory—a trailer he shared with Miner—lacked a bathroom, but in the years since, his office has improved as the classes he teaches in international health have become part of one of the largest departments at RSPH.
     “From the beginning, one of our strengths was internationalism,” says Brachman, who still uses the coffee pot from his trailer days. Many RSPH faculty have experience overseas, and they bring their networks to students. Endowed scholarships from Eugene Gangarosa, the Hubert Family Foundation, and William Foege support students who pursue global field experiences. Recently, Richard Hubert further solidified the Hubert Foundation’s commitment to global health by adding to multiple gifts totaling more than $10 million to name the department. The students themselves contribute travel support to global fieldwork through sale of foods and a yearly calendar that features photos from these research trips.
     Brachman says the presence of the Hubert H. Humphrey and Edmund Muskie fellowship programs at the RSPH are a valuable resource to its global health program. These international scholarship programs bring mid-career professionals from developing countries to study public health in the United States. “These fellows mentor our students and bring connections and contacts with activities overseas to our classrooms,” he says.
Community connections  
The RSPH’s strong emphasis on the practice of public health in communities functions like a gravitational pull for students. “The RSPH gives students the skills to make a difference,” says longtime global health professor Stan Foster. “We’re the best at that.”
     Foster entered in the second class of the early Emory community health program, which he admits took him seven years to complete. Every time he’d get close to finishing the required course work, he would ship off to remote locations to deal with a new disease (Ebola), a disaster (the invasion of Lebanon), or CDC/USAID’s Child Health Programs in Africa. He began teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the public health program in the 1980s and has been a perennial favorite of students, who have voted him professor of the year. Foster’s classes of 20 to 30 students in the 1980s now fill 90 seats in a seminar room.
     His popularity comes in part from his active involvement in his students’ course work during their first year and in directing them to firsthand experiences in the community. In his recent spring course studying a pastoral population in rural Ethiopia, Lynn Sibley, a nursing school faculty member with a PhD in anthropology and training as a nurse midwife, shared her experience of teaching lifesaving skills to the study population, where up to 10% of women lose their lives to maternal complications over seven to 10 pregnancies. That class visit led to one of Foster’s students traveling this summer to Ethiopia to produce a video documentary on village women acting out deliveries to teach the community lifesaving skills.
     Kathy Miner, one of the first faculty members in behavioral sciences and health education, also testifies to the importance of connecting students to the community. In 1997, she became associate dean and director of the office of Applied Public Health, which was established to nurture the strong connections between public health education and practice. She believes the best learning places instruction alongside actual practice with community agencies. She wants to prepare graduates to be problem solvers in action, to work with others on solutions that involve entire communities.
     “Public health as a profession gets done through the community,” she says. “We are a professional school, producing people to go into the work force, and to do that, to make sure graduates are prepared for work, we have to stay connected to the community.”
     Throughout her career at Emory, Miner and her colleagues have spent a lot of energy envisioning what the school could be in the future. “We’d say, ‘What we’re doing now is good, but we could be better.’”
Destination Public Health  
That focus on the future, on making good things better, is as pervasive on the Emory campus now as it was in the days following the Woodruff gift. Emory President James Wagner is leading the campus in defining a vision of what Emory can accomplish in the future. A recently crafted mission statement calls for Emory to become a destination university, one that is inquiry-driven, distinctive for its ethical commitment, and working for positive transformation in the world. “The RSPH evokes qualities of engagement and commitment, of global awareness and connectivity, of justice and service, that resonate across the University and have become part of how we think of ourselves and how we strive to behave as an institution,” he says.
     Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, has unveiled Vision 2012, which challenges the Woodruff Health Sciences Center to become one of the world’s top 10 academic health centers in the next seven years. The goal is to create a new model for health and healing, with greater interdisciplinary collaboration among all the health professions and continuous implementation of findings from research on patient outcomes. At the most basic level, the goal is to make a measurable impact on the population’s health and to serve the health needs of Georgia, the region, the nation, and other countries around the world. Spreading good health starts locally, and the center seeks to be the best citizen in metropolitan Atlanta by being involved with civic projects at all levels.
     The RSPH will play a major role in helping the University and Health Sciences Center fulfill the goals of reaching beyond the ivory tower to effect a greater good in society. For starters, the school is already fully engaged with the community, both locally and globally, and is a cornerstone of global health at Emory. “Every health professional ought to be versed in global health just as every citizen ought to be versed in global issues today,” says Curran. “During my lifetime, the world has gotten even smaller, and the challenges for people are not bounded by countries. Our interconnectedness demands that we pay attention to our neighbor’s needs.”
     Public health also is fundamental to the success of the Health Sciences Center’s emphasis on developing strength in predictive health, according to Curran. “The journey of basic science discoveries to the community, whether the development of mammograms or a new test to screen for prostate cancer, requires public health researchers and practitioners to ask the questions: ‘Does the test work? Are we reaching the right population to be effective? Is the treatment affordable?’” Public health research, particularly in transitional areas of epidemiology, outcomes research, behavioral sciences, health education, health literacy, and health economics, is a necessary bridge in translating bench science to patient care.
     The RSPH is setting its sights on becoming one of the top five schools of public health in the world in the next decade. To accomplish that goal, the school needs to increase its faculty by 30%, to double its research base, to double the number of doctoral students, and to substantially increase scholarship dollars.
     One immediate hurdle is lack of space. As in the days preceding its founding, public health now is spread across campus. The need for a larger headquarters is critical and immediate. Global health and other departments are actively recruiting new faculty members, and when those people are hired, they will need offices and research space.
     Affordability of a private university education is another challenge facing not only the school but also academia in general, according to Curran. “Public health graduates often have a high debt load and enter a career of local or global service or academia,” says Curran. “Most of our graduates aren’t seeking their education to make large amounts of money. We have to ensure they can pursue their chosen careers without extensive debt by increasing our scholarship funds.”
     In addition to an increase in scholarships, RSPH has plans to grow its faculty in key areas: infectious diseases, safe water, worldwide nutrition, and chronic diseases. The school especially needs more endowed chairs to increase the number of faculty without additional leveraging of limited funds. The school is partnering with other divisions across Emory to jointly recruit and hire. It hopes to endow 10 to 15 professorships by 2010.
Higher expectations  
In only a relatively short history of 15 years, the RSPH has turned the vision of early public health advocates at Emory into a reality. “I can honestly say we’re among the better schools of public health,” says Levinson. “We get better students than most schools, and we give them better training. Our faculty are highly regarded and, in fact, are being recruited by other places, which is a good measure of how we’re doing. We are being watched as a model. I’d say the school is a rising star.”
     The recent accreditation of the RSPH through 2012 by the Council of Education for Public Health confirms that. The seven-year accreditation was the maximum available for schools of public health, and the council’s report came with high praise of the school’s progress.
Recent rankings also validate its status. In 2004, the RSPH ranked 10th among all U.S. schools of public health in attracting NIH funding, up from 12th the previous year. The $20.8 million in 2004 funding from NIH marked a 37% increase from the 2003 amount of $15.2 million.
     Charles Hatcher is not surprised by these rankings. “I had an idea the school would be successful,” he says, “but it has been more successful, faster than I thought, than I had any right to expect. In five years, it is in the top 10. I think it will go to 3 or 4.”
     Laney, too, puts his support in establishing the RSPH as one of his most solid accomplishments at Emory. “I was as certain of the success of the School of Public Health at Emory as of anything I’d ever done,” says the University president who went on to serve as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. “I had high expectations, and it has exceeded my expectations. Amazing.”


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