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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: UB unveils School of Public Health and Health Professions
Author: T2RERC
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 Issue 1 (Spring)

The University at Buffalo today unveiled its School of Public Health and Health Professions, which will train public health and health professionals in an environment focused on wellness, disease prevention, and environmental and population issues.

The school will continue highly regarded research programs investigating chronic disease, and will develop innovative ways to meet emerging health needs of citizens in Western New York, New York State and the nation.

The school was formed by merging the university's School of Health Related Professions, which has a strong track record in allied-health education and research, with the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, which has been part of UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and is a national leader in research into the epidemiology of disease.

UB President William G. Greiner, announcing the newly designated school at a press conference, said that "as SUNY's comprehensive flagship campus and New York State's most comprehensive public research university, UB has been a national leader in the development of the health professions."

"The inauguration of the School of Public Health and Health Professions marks an exciting new era of excellence in modern public-health education, research and public service at UB," he said. "With its unique focus on health, wellness and the prevention of disease, and with ready access to our high-performance computing capacity, the school will continue in a national leadership role by helping define the use of informatics in public health."

Greiner added, "I have no doubt that the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions will set a new standard not only for our university community, but for the many diverse constituencies we serve across the region and state."

UB Provost Elizabeth D, Capaldi noted that "the school[‘s focus on health, wellness and prevention of disease, considering environmental and population factors and using technology to track the relevant health data, puts UB in a strong position to help in reducing health costs and in preparing the nation and Western New York to deal with bioterrorism and other health-related threats, while also producing a strong and healthy society."

Faculty and researchers in the School of Public Health and Health Professions will focus on key public-health issues, including chronic diseases, environmental health, women's health, obesity, maternal and child health, rehabilitation and assistive technology. Their emphasis will be on studying the interaction of environmental factors and life-style habits (e.g. nutrition, physical activity, smoking) with genetic predisposition and to evaluate their effect on the population burden of disease.

UB's Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics will provide the supercomputing power to take public-health research to the next level, integrating epidemiology with disciplines such as genetics, geographic mapping and telemedicine.

A vital component of the school will be a Western New York Population Health Observatory, a regional health and disease surveillance system that could serve as a model for establishing such systems throughout the U.S.

Capaldi has named Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., interim dean of the School of Health Related Professions and chair of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to serve as acting dean of the school while a search is conducted for its first dean.

Trevisan is an internationally recognized researcher in the epidemiology and prevention of cardiovascular disease. He is the principal investigator of the Western New York Center of the (national) Women's Health Initiative, and is involved in a series of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health investigating the relationship between oral health and cardiovascular disease.

"This is a very exciting time for all of us," Trevisan said. "We look forward to creating an environment where health professionals and others interested in health train and conduct research through an integrated approach, which will focus on the determinants of health and disease in the population and the forces that shape and influence the quality and delivery of health care.

"Our approach," Trevisan added, "is based on the notion that ‘health' is not merely the absence of disease, but that health and human function are seen as a continuum: from the cellular level, to organ function, to activity performance, to role performance, to effects on community and community health policy.

"With that vision guiding us, we will work to create bridges across health and non-health disciplines in our efforts to find solutions to the major health issues facing our society."

Structurally, the school will comprise the existing UB departments of Social and Preventive Medicine, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, and Rehabilitation Science, and the biostatistics unit, which will become a department. Three new departments—Environmental Health, Behavioral Sciences, and Public Health Practice and Health Policy—are proposed.

The UB Center for Assistive Technology, which houses two National Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers—on aging and technology transfer—and the UB Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange (CIRRIE), will come under the school's umbrella as well.

The new Population Health Observatory, which will work closely with the eight Western New York county health departments, will have three components: public-health surveillance and research, community participation and education.

UB has offered a master's degree in public health (MPH) through the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine since 2001, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology and community-health since 1993, but the university's public health tradition dates back to the mid-19th century. In 1843 Austin Flint Sr., M.D., one of UB's founding faculty, conducted one of the nation's earliest epidemiological investigations as he tracked down an outbreak of epidemic fever in the Town of Boston. The epidemic turned out to be typhoid fever.

Today, Western New York faces different health challenges. It ranks among the top areas in the country in the incidence of heath disease, cancer, asthma and other chronic disease. The region also struggles with the legacy of toxic wastes introduced into the region's soil and water over the past century by a concentration of food processing, chemical, metallurgical and petroleum industries. The aging population, locally and nationally, underlines the need for highly skilled rehabilitation professionals.

The school began accepting students this semester. Currently, it will confer the following degrees: master's in public health (MPH); master's and doctorate in epidemiology; master's in biostatistics; bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in exercise science; bachelor's and master's in athletic training; master's in nutrition; doctorates in rehabilitation sciences and physical therapy (DPT) and bachelor's and master's in occupational therapy.

In the future, the school hopes to offer doctoral degree programs in public health, biostatistics and nutrition.

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