From natural disasters and terrorists' attacks to the rapid spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS, the role of public health in our society has experienced an unprecedented resurgence since the days our nation's citizens were vaccinated to halt the spread of polio.
Today, concern about public health issues is widespread, yet demand for public health services outpaces the supply of public health professionals. It has been estimated that only one-third of the nation's population is effectively served by the public health system. Within the profession, only about 20 percent of public health practitioners have graduate degrees in public health.
Here in California, we see erosion in our own capacity to meet the public health needs of our fast-growing and increasingly diverse population. A survey of public health officials that UC Davis conducted in 39 Northern California counties found an enormous need for these specialized health professionals.
Currently, there are 37 accredited schools of public health in the United States, including four in California: UC Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University and Loma Linda University. However, class size in these schools is limited, resulting in the number of graduates failing to keep pace with population growth.
UC Davis is uniquely positioned to respond to this critical public need and has sent a proposal to the UC Office of the President for a new School of Public Health here at UC Davis.
The new school would build upon the campus's location in California's agricultural heartland, its proximity to the state capital and its existing academic strengths to provide a unique expertise in rural and environmental health issues, and disparities in health care for various groups and communities.
The campus currently has top-ranked talent in areas that are critically important to public health, including occupational and environmental health, rural and immigrant health, health disparities, reproductive health, nutrition and cancer, and violence protection. Its public health sciences department already has a well-established reputation for improving health through educational programs, epidemiologic research and public service and policy development.
The public health school envisioned for UC Davis will integrate expertise from a variety of disciplines across campus, ranging from medicine, veterinary medicine and nutrition to economics and statistics, as well as developing strong collaborations with colleagues at the newly formed California Department of Public Health, and local health departments.
All of these strengths, when taken together, create the potential for developing an exceptionally robust public health program here at UC Davis that will go far in addressing the needs of this region.