Randy Wykoff, MD, MPH & TM
Dean, College of Public Health
East Tennessee State University
In 2006, I was deeply honored to accept the opportunity to become the first Dean of the College of Public Health at East Tennessee State University. Since that time I have met many business, community, and civic leaders, and have come to realize that we share a strong commitment to improving the long-term well-being of the people of our region.
There is a growing recognition that, to achieve this goal, we must focus on three vital areas: improving the region’s economy; improving region’s educational achievement; and improving the health status of our region’s population.
It surprises some people to learn that these three goals are inseparably intertwined. One cannot be achieved without addressing the other two. For example, economic development requires an educated and healthy workforce. Healthy students learn better and healthy workers work more productively. Education improves both health and economic opportunity.
As a part of ETSU’s commitment to this region, the College of Public Health has a vitally important role to play in achieving this shared vision.
According to the Institute of Medicine, “Public Health is what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.” While this includes an element of healthcare, it goes well beyond a visit to the physician’s office. To be healthy, people need to be protected from disease outbreaks, including new diseases such as SARS, avian influenza, and the recent H1N1 influenza. People need access to a plentiful supply of safe food and water. Communities need comprehensive plans to reduce death and disability from injury, as well as from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. We need to be sure that we use education—both in the schools and in the community—to provide people with the knowledge that they need to make the best decisions about their health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Our public health system, with its focus on primary prevention, continues to be our first defense against disease and injury and the basis for future improvements in the length and quality of our lives.” In other words, Public Health is essential to our health and welfare as a region, a State, and a Nation.
“America’s Health Rankings” lists states in rank order from the most healthy to the least healthy. In 2008, Tennessee fell near the bottom of that list with a ranking of 47th. Major health challenges facing our State include a high prevalence of smoking, obesity, violent crime, and infant death. Tennessee ranks 47th for both heart disease deaths and for cancer deaths—the two leading causes of death in the United States.
There is, clearly, a very strong need for improved public health in our State and in our region.
To this end, ETSU has established the first College of Public Health in the State of Tennessee and the only one in rural Appalachia. Following approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents and from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), in 2007, ETSU became one of only 26 Universities in the United States with a College of Medicine, a College of Pharmacy, and a College of Public Health.
Over the last two years, with faculty leadership and significant input from students, alumni, community leaders, and others, the College developed a comprehensive Self Study document that includes a five year Strategic Plan. This was submitted to CEPH in late 2008, and in May of this year, an accreditation review team from CEPH visited ETSU. The feedback received was encouraging, and the College will learn if final accreditation has been granted in November.
Former U.S. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist has been a champion for global health and advancing the cause of worldwide peace and diplomacy. His Hope for Healing Hands Foundation has established a program that allows ETSU public health students to complete their field placement education in a developing country. The Niswonger Foundation has made a significant contribution to this program. Two students are now working in South Africa to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children who live in extremely challenging conditions. What these students learn in South Africa will make them better public health practitioners when they return to our region.
In addition to having a major impact on the health of people living in the region, the College is projected to have a significant impact on the region’s economy. According to an economic impact study by Dr. Steb Hipple of the ETSU Bureau of Business and Economic Development, the College will produce nearly $41.5 million dollars annually for Tennessee by the end of its first decade, and create as many as 377 new jobs. Approximately $23.6 million will be realized in this region.
In addition to offering both masters and doctoral level training in Public Health, ETSU is among the few Colleges of Public Health that offer undergraduate training in Public Health. A listing of all academic offerings is available at the website: www.etsu.edu/cph. To support working professionals, many of the courses for the advanced degrees are offered in the evening, and/or on-line.
To be successful, every College of Public Health needs a close working relationship with its community, and, especially strong support from the business community. I look forward to continuing to work with the region’s business leaders as we explore how we can best collaborate to achieve our common vision.