Proposed ONE School of Public Health

nsu, odu, and evms presidents sitting down togetherStaying healthy is far more complicated than what first meets the eye. A community's health is a basket filled with complex influences such as the environment, genetics, politics, culture and racism. That's why Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School (O.N.E.) agreed in August to work toward establishing Virginia's first school of public health. The proposed O.N.E. School of Public Health (ONE SPH) would be only the third collaborative of its kind in the country.

“Collectively, our institutions produce many health care professionals who go on to work for hospital systems, government agencies, nonprofits and private companies in the area and across the Commonwealth,” says NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D. “The students who attend the ONE School of Public Health will not only gain public health knowledge, skills and competencies, they will also learn about health equity, cultural competency and other best practices for disease prevention, health promotion, leadership and more. This will give the region a well-rounded and well-prepared workforce for years to come.”

three university presidents standingHampton Roads has significant health disparities in its urban areas. Average life expectancy is lower than the state's and nation's, especially in underserved communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black Americans are more likely to face health disparities and, as a result, suffer from diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. They are also more likely to die younger from all causes.

“The ONE SPH will support multidisciplinary and interprofessional teams needed to address complex problems,” says Felicia Mebane, Ph.D., interim executive director of public health initiatives at NSU. “This new school will be more than the sum of various public health degrees and programs. It will create a culture of collaboration and interconnected infrastructure and resources that contribute to our communities in ways that individual programs can't do.”

The creation of the school has received strong support from then-Governor Ralph Northam and the Virginia General Assembly, which fully funded a request of $5 million to be divided equally between NSU and ODU. Along with EVMS, the universities are preparing for accreditation – targeted for 2024 – from the Council on Education for Public Health. In addition, Sentara Healthcare, a key ally and financial supporter, contributed $4 million to support the accreditation process.

“The vision of EVMS is to be recognized as the most community-oriented school of medicine and health professions in the United States,” says Brian C. Martin, Ph.D., associate dean for administration at EVMS School of Health Professions. “The ONE SPH will allow EVMS to leverage relationships with ODU and NSU to make substantial progress toward this vision.”

Bonnie Van Lunen, Ph.D., dean of ODU's College of Health Sciences, says partnerships are also important to ODU, noting that joining with the other organizations will allow all of them to become more effective. “The community wants action, and this initiative shows that we are taking steps toward working for and with our community.”

Under the agreement, ODU will serve as the lead institution, with NSU and EVMS directors, faculty and staff also engaged in key levels of decision making. While the school's administration will be housed on the ODU campus, all institutions will serve equally on a curriculum committee. The school will have its own dean.

The ONE SPH will have three major goals, to provide education, research and service. It will educate future public health experts by offering collaborative undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees and workforce development opportunities. Currently, each participating university offers public health programs, some of which are the same and others unique. Both ODU and EVMS offer the Master of Public Health degree, for example, and Norfolk State is in the process of developing one. The envisioned school of public health will allow students to apply to a single school with access to classes and programs at all three institutions.

Mildred Fuller, Ph.D., interim chair of NSU's Department of Nursing and Allied Health, says the ONE SPH will complement the health sciences programs offered by the university, noting that NSU’s MPH program would be housed in her department. The ONE SPH will also bring “a new cadre of academics to this region and new levels of research, community engagement and continuing education provided by all three institutions.”

“Our joint partnership shows the importance of regionalism and collaboration, and is a great example of how, when we all work together, we can find solutions to address major problems that impact individuals on every level,” says Adams-Gaston.