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The Promise of Public Health

Achieving Greatness as a Community

By Dean Cheryl A.M. Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor and founding dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science, inaugural Hood Family Endowed Dean’s Chair in Public Health.

When the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego launched in 2019 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we pursued research and education activities and expanded our work into the San Diego region in a way that only a school of public health can.

Concurrently, we designed a visionary path that would provide our school a competitive advantage among established public health schools.

Schools of public health exist to ensure that the lives of individuals are enriched, that we prevent disease, and we promote health. We also have a responsibility for those of us who live in and serve regions where mortality and morbidity from disease burden is in excess to ensure that we reverse those trends.

Our community in San Diego has benefited from a strong county public health department. When looking for exemplars for public health across the country you will find that San Diego is one of those places that people look to, whether it is programs like Live Well San Diego initiative or the Be There San Diego initiative.

We have a community that fares better than the rest of the nation. As a school, our responsibility is to connect, to engage and to strive for enhancements with this already thriving community. The idea of making things better only comes with true partnership with community, really listening and working with community, and exploring ideas to improve health through a culturally humble lens.

Research

When envisioning a school of public health, we realized that UC San Diego would be stronger together by unifying and galvanizing public health efforts across the campus.

The strengths of the university dovetail nicely with the strategic directions of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health. We pursue climate and public health research in a way that is unparalleled as we collaborate with campus partners like the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a world class geosciences institution, and UC San Diego Health, the academic hospital system within our campus.

The 2022-2023 academic year afforded the first opportunity to implement our school’s strategic plan. In research, we have been experiencing tremendous growth in areas strategically prioritized by the school; areas in which we possess the capacity to leave the largest footprint.

We are one of the few schools in the country that can say they share a border with another country. This gives us the opportunity to do global health, border health, and migration and refugee health in a way that few other schools can.
We also leverage a strong history of aging research at the university. We included longevity science in our school’s name because we want to grow our research portfolio around aging. While as a single school we can accomplish a lot, true greatness is achieved when collaborating with the entire UC San Diego campus.

As we have been executing our strategic plan, we at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health have been thinking about the things that we aspire to do and do well, and to do competitively. For example, we have a long history of doing excellent tobacco policy work, tobacco cessation and behavior change work.

We have an opportunity as a school to magnify our work in substance use and mental health. San Diego faces challenges in addressing public health for unsheltered individuals as well as the opioid epidemic. Partnering with San Diego County and other entities that work in these critical areas, a new school of public health can help move our efforts around housing and substance use in a positive direction.

When Roe v Wade was overturned, we partnered with the UC San Diego School of Medicine’s department of reproductive sciences to ensure that we were doing as much as we can as a university and as clinical providers to secure that women have access to reproductive services and other women’s health services.

We convened experts in reproductive justice who work in UC San Diego Health Sciences to respond in real time to the conversation that was happening in the country around women’s reproductive rights. One of our new research programs focuses on women’s health and reproductive justice, allowing us to expand what we offer in the classroom as we train the next generation as well as in research grants to help us make strides today.

Our competitive advantage as a school is heightened because of our locality in San Diego and our homebase at UC San Diego.

“When envisioning a school of public health, we realized that UC San Diego would be stronger together by unifying and galvanizing public health efforts across the campus.”

– Dean Cheryl A.M. Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Education

In addition to expanding course offerings within our newly established education programs, during the 2022-2023 academic year, UC San Diego submitted a proposal to establish a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health with a concentration in health services research and implementation science in response to the increasing demand for training in these areas and the availability of such programs locally and nationally.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the way that we do science is that we do this brilliant, exquisite scientific experiments and we have highly notable observations from the science that we do, but it takes a very long time before that type of work, as well as the implications and the benefits of the work, make its way into communities.

A newly emerging training area is dissemination and implementation science. As a new school of public health, we have an opportunity to train the next generation of educators in dissemination and implementation science allowing us to take discovery and move it into communities faster.

This is something that is truly modern, truly 21st century that will not only serve us well now but will serve generations to come.

Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

A significant accomplishment for our school over the last year was the growth of the Compassionate Action Circle, a forum facilitating an open conversation to build a sense of community.

The forum was a response to what we experienced as a global community in 2020, when we were experiencing a pandemic and simultaneously hearing the cries of the community, through the Black Lives Matter movement — around the need to feel seen and heard and to try to address institutional racism within our country and world. In addition, there was a national increase in violence against people of Asian descent in the midst of the pandemic that impacted our school.

In response to these pressing social issues, we wanted to be proactive and offer opportunities for dialogue, scholarship, interaction, and trust building with each other. The Compassionate Action Circle was established to give us regular occasions to discuss serious topics that can be a challenge within societal norms so that we may shift those norms for the better.

We have seen over time that we are establishing more trust across the school as well as equipping people to converse outside of the school in more effective ways about sensitive conversations.