Leaders from EVMS, ODU and NSU signed a memorandum of understanding Aug. 26 to develop Virginia’s first school of public health.

Alfred Abuhamad, MD, Interim President and Provost of EVMS and Dean of the School of Medicine, who joined his fellow presidents at the signing ceremony, said the school — known as the ONE (ODU, NSU and EVMS) School of Public Health — is an important step forward in addressing pressing health inequities.

“As a region, we can no longer ignore the health disparities that exist in our neighborhoods,” Dr. Abuhamad said. “Indeed, the health of our community should be measured by the health of the most vulnerable among us. Expanding our existing partnerships in offering high-level education in public health is an enormous step forward in broadening the impact we can have on Hampton Roads.

“Creating the ONE School of Public Health in partnership with ODU and NSU will go a long way toward addressing the health needs of our citizenry, and EVMS is proud to be a full partner in this endeavor,” he said. “This partnership could not happen without the support of ODU, NSU, Sentara Healthcare, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. We thank each for their support of this important work and look forward to collaborating to improve the health of Hampton Roads.”

The new school will work to improve health outcomes in Hampton Roads, which has significant health disparities among urban areas. Average life expectancies are markedly lower than state and national averages. The disparities are pronounced for underserved communities, particularly minorities.

“Today is truly a day of celebration on multiple levels,” said ODU President Brian Hemphill, PhD. “EVMS, NSU and ODU joining forces with a genuine sense of care for our community is so important.

“The work we have to do is not about any one individual,” he added. “It is about the collective. As a community, with all of us coming together, we will be able to do dynamic work on behalf of our citizens with this School of Public Health.”

NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston, PhD, said the joint school has the potential to graduate public health experts well-versed in promoting healthy lifestyles, making a significant impact on the overall health of the community. 

“Collectively, our institutions produce many health care professionals who go on to work for hospital systems, health care and government agencies in the area and across the Commonwealth. The students who attend the ONE School of Public Health in partnership with Sentara Healthcare – a key ally and financial supporter – will not only gain the knowledge in public health fields, but they will also learn about cultural competency in public health and medicine that will allow them to promote wellness and encourage healthy behaviors amongst the people they treat and encounter,” she said. “This will give the region a well-rounded and prepared workforce in the years to come.”

Bruce Waldholtz, MD, Rector of the EVMS Board of Visitors, is equally excited about the impact the new school can have on communities that are struggling not only with COVID, but other issues such as high rates of diabetes, cancer and infant mortality.

“As physicians, we take care of one patient at a time . . .,” he said. “Our patient here at EVMS and at the school of public health is our community. With a school of public health and the entire community behind us, we will make a difference and a better life for our communities.”

Brian Martin, PhD, Associate Dean for Administration in the School of Health Professions and Director of the Master of Public Health program at EVMS, says the new school will coordinate efforts in public health and will benefit from the collective resources of the three sponsoring institutions.

“All of the things we bring to the table in a ONE School of Public Health have a lot more potential for impact on health in Hampton roads and beyond,” he said.

With the agreement signed, the three institutions will prepare to apply for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

Under the agreement, ODU will serve as the lead institution, providing organizational, administrative and governance functions. The school will be housed on the ODU campus, but all institutions will collaborate as equals. Representatives from each institution will serve on an Institutional Operations Committee making decisions for the school. A curriculum committee with representatives from all three universities will define curricular components aligned with accreditation requirements. Together, the institutions will develop a “rules of the school” document entailing financial agreements, bylaws, governance and policies.

The School of Public Health will have three aims: educational, research and service. The school will offer collaborative Master of Public Health and doctoral programs, continuing education opportunities, contemporary teaching modalities and educational opportunities through partnerships.

The school will develop research addressing important regional, statewide, national and global public health challenges. Students will conduct community-based research focused on health disparities, determining the best ways to support preventative health care messaging.

To serve the community, the school will create and enhance partnerships to address public health challenges, provide service-learning opportunities, promote faculty and staff involvement and support the region’s public health workforce.

The school will have its own dean and will offer a Master of Public Health and PhD in Health Services Research in addition to future degrees to be determined by further collaboration among the partners. Each institution will have directors forming an executive council for the school. A search committee has been formed to hire the founding dean, who will guide the school through the accreditation process. The dean will be appointed by the ODU president.

The resulting school will build upon the history of public health leadership at each institution. ODU currently offers accredited undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs related to public health programming. NSU offers an accredited Master of Healthcare Administration program, while EVMS has two master’s degree programs in healthcare administration and public health.