Officials at Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences believe that the stars are lining up just about perfectly for the college’s increased focus on wellness and preventive care.
“There’s been a real shift in the attention to public health,” said Tom Eversole, the director of strategic development for the college. “You’ve got to work upstream to keep people healthy.” In other words, it’s no longer enough to have a health care system focused primarily on curing people who are sick: It’s just as important, if not more so, to find ways to keep people well.
That’s one of the big ideas driving the health care reforms that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law on Friday. And that’s one of the big ideas that have been driving the overhaul of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, which recently cleared a big hurdle of its own: The Council on Education for Public Health approved OSU’s request to start a process to become the state’s first nationally accredited college of public health.
Across the United States, 48 schools and colleges of public health are nationally accredited, but few are in the West. Western students interested in the field tend to migrate to the East for accredited schools, said Tammy Bray, dean of the college, “and they don’t come back.”
The accreditation certification isn’t a slam dunk — it requires two years of self-study by the college — but the approval to start the process is a clear signal that the council believes OSU has the capacity to earn accreditation, said S. Marie Harvey, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate programs.
That in itself sends an important signal to potential new faculty members and students. In fact, the college has lined up some 20 new faculty members who will start this fall and who hail from universities such as Harvard and UCLA. As for students, Bray said that enrollment has been growing some 8 to 10 percent each year. (The college now has about 3,100 students.)
The College of Public Health and Human Sciences dates back to a 2002 merger between two OSU colleges, home economics and health and human performance. Bray came to OSU from Ohio State University in September 2002. From the start, Bray said, she thought Oregon State had many of the necessary attributes to move toward a public health focus, including research capacity, outreach ability and teaching wherewithal. OSU’s status as a land-grant institution and the OSU Extension Service give the university the ability to reach into all of the state’s counties, she said.
At the same time, she noted, health care reformers around the nation have been thinking about the importance of preventive care — a big focus in public health programs.
“Medical care,” she said, “is the second line of defense.” The first line of defense, she said, should be wellness programs that aim to keep people and communities healthy.
The opportunities for collaboration, both within and outside OSU, are numerous. The college already is working to build programs with Western University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest, under construction in Lebanon, Bray said. And Eversole said that county health departments throughout Oregon are natural partners for OSU. “We’ve always said we’re not building this for Oregon State,” Harvey said. “We’re building this for Oregon. And that’s really true.”