The University of Maryland, Baltimore, long a leader in epidemiology and preventive medicine, will open a school of public health - the first new professional school on the city campus in 45 years.
At its annual meeting yesterday in Frostburg, the state Board of Regents approved plans to draw on existing resources at the university - including the master of public health degree now offered by the School of Medicine - to create the seventh professional school on the Baltimore campus.
"Public health is clearly one of our areas of expertise at the university," board Chairman David H. Nevins said. "We had all the ingredients for the school of public health but the school itself. So this was a next logical step."
The school will open just miles from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. With 1,900 students, 500 faculty, and programs in 65 countries, Bloomberg is the largest such school in the world - and, perhaps, the best-regarded.
Bloomberg Dean Michael Klag called the creation of a new school "great."
"It reflects the increasing recognition of the importance of public health," Klag said. "You can't pick up the newspaper without seeing every day on the front page some pressing matter that is related to public health, whether it's disaster response or avian flu or care of the poor and underserved and access to care and lack of health insurance."
Details regarding the size of the faculty and student body at the school, the cost of tuition and the opening date were not available yesterday. J. Glenn Morris Jr., the chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, was preparing paperwork for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health, a spokesman said.
University President David J. Ramsay outlined the rationale for the school last month in a letter to Chancellor William E. Kirwan.
"Events occurring during the past several years, including bioterror concerns triggered by the 9/11 attacks, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the possibility of pandemic influenza caused by avian strains, and the epidemic of lifestyle related illnesses (e.g. obesity) underscore the critical importance of public health issues to the well-being of the U.S. population," Ramsay wrote. "Schools of public health are essential in providing the training, research, and service needed to address these increasingly complex challenges to the nation's health."
The school, the first to open on the Baltimore campus since the School of Social Work in 1961, would start with departments of biostatistics; epidemiology; environmental health sciences; health services administration; social and behavioral sciences; and global health.
Nevins said that combining existing programs held several benefits.
"It gives them a greater degree of visibility that will allow them to be more marketable," he said. "It's better for the faculty, who will interact in more significant ways with one another. And it's better for students in similar programs, who will have the ability with their research and classes to interact with one another more effectively as well."
Professionals have expressed concerns about the ability of an aging public health work force to meet the needs of the aging population.
"We know that in the next several years, anywhere from a quarter to a half of the governmental public health force will be eligible for retirement," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "We're seeing the graying of America, so we know there is a need to repopulate those specialties as people retire and as the baby boomers age out."
U.S. News and World Report ranked the Bloomberg school at Hopkins first in its most recent survey of schools of public health, in 2003. A spokesman for the University of Maryland, Baltimore said the new school would not duplicate efforts.
"We're going to be clearly more focused on the needs of the state," spokesman Ed Fishel said. "We have great respect for Johns Hopkins. It's just that this is a school that's going to have a different mission."
Klag, the Bloomberg dean, pledged his support.
"We have lots of collaborators and friends and colleagues there, and they will do a superb job, especially for people who work in state health departments," he said. "We'll stand by to help in any way that we can."
Morgan State University also offers master's degrees and doctorates in public health through its School of Graduate Studies.
Benjamin, a former state secretary of health and mental hygiene, praised the regents' decision.
"There is a growing recognition of the importance of dealing with health from a more population-based focus," he said. "As we begin generating data, getting people to evaluate the data, then using that data to make population-based decisions, there's a strong belief that you need to train more people.
"Hopkins is a wonderful place, and Morgan State, it's a great program," Benjamin said. "Now the University of Maryland is going to broaden into a school, which brings new capacities and capabilities. I can't think of a better place in Maryland to do it."
Also yesterday, the regents approved the creation of a master's degree in mental health counseling and a doctorate in computer science at Bowie State University; a bachelor's degree in music education and a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park; a bachelor's in ethnobotany at Frostburg State University and a master's and doctorate in human-centered computing at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.