Spring 2022

Practice Reimagined at the Gillings School

article summary

The Gillings School is completing a major strategic planning effort focused on practice – a recommitment to this essential area, on equal footing with research and academics.

Dr. Milton Rosenau, founding dean of UNC’s 80-year-old School of Public Health, dreamed of a time when “there shall be no unnecessary suffering and no premature deaths; when the welfare of the people shall be our highest concern.” He hoped that, through prevention, we would experience the “joy that we may aid… those who shall live after us.”

Dr. Leah Devlin, Professor of the Practice, Dept. of Health Policy and Management

Dr. John Wiesman, Professor of the Practice, Dept. of Health Policy and Management

This challenge still rings true, especially as we face the future during a time of great transition, both within the School and in the world around us. Public health practice — where we apply our public health training and expertise to assess, develop, implement and/or lead policies, programs and interventions to improve the public’s health — is the area where we in the Gillings School can make a tangible impact on health and equity in the here and now. 

Gillings strategic plan for practice

Dean Rimer charged Gillings School leaders to create a strategic plan with recommendations for strengthening research, teaching and practice at Gillings for the next dean’s consideration. As part of this effort, the Practice Task Force has developed recommendations that can increase our School’s impact over the next five years.

The vision is to elevate practice equal to research and teaching in ways that are equity driven, local to global, and that are anchored by deep, enduring and trusting partnerships with communities. Recommendations lay out a strong vision, guided by the refreshed definition of practice listed above, that will leverage and focus the amazing resources at Gillings.

Recommendations identify key projects that will help Gillings contribute to improved health and equity across North Carolina and beyond, supported by an enhanced structure for practice; incentives for students, staff and faculty to participate in practice; a call for adequate funding from diverse sources; and defined metrics for accountability and to help us tell the story of our impact with data and examples. A strengthened N.C. Institute for Public Health will be key to actualizing this vision. An adequate and diverse workforce, public health crisis capacity, data analysis and growing trust with communities are all essential issues to address inequities in health. These issues are addressed in the practice strategic plan. 

Our partners

Core to our vision for practice is how we work with communities and organizations. Community partners are re-envisioning their work in the chaotic environment the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive. With their on-the-ground experience and insights, they help guide priorities and goals. One important way we learn how best to focus our resources is through our Practice Advisory Committee, a highly engaged advisory group that includes funders; N.C. Department of Health and Human Services leaders; local health directors; and private, nonprofit executive directors. This group helps educate us on urgent needs, connects us with stakeholders and helps integrate across areas. These kinds of enduring relationships mean that Gillings faculty and staff are highly engaged with the team that is developing new recommendations that the N.C. Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on the Future of Local Public Health is generating this spring. We are also assisting in the N.C. Division of Public Health’s efforts to develop new regional capacity in support of local public health.

Our phenomenal alumni

We acknowledge, with gratitude, the thousands of Gillings School alumni working in the private and public sectors. They represent some of our best evidence of the impact our School can make in the world — doing incredible work in support of cutting-edge research, leading organizations and supporting students both in practica and as they begin their careers.

There are so many examples of public health practice that demonstrate the commitment of Gillings faculty, staff, students and alumni to make a difference in health and health equity in N.C., across the U.S. and around the world. We hope you will read on in this issue of Carolina Public Health to find out more!

Eleanor Roosevelt, along with Dean Rosenau, had it right: “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The faculty, staff and students at Gillings, together with partners and in concert with communities locally and globally, are making, and can make an even greater, difference in creating a healthier, more just world.  

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