This has been a year of fresh starts and new beginnings for many of us. In January, Dr. Gary Raskob became the interim senior vice president and provost at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. He was then confirmed for this position in September. As Dr. Raskob transitioned from his work at the Hudson College of Public Health, I was honored to be asked to step in as the interim dean. I recognize that this position comes with a great deal of opportunity and commitment, and I’m looking forward to leading the college during this critical time in public health.
Even though I’ve been in this role for a relatively short period, I’ve witnessed significant accomplishments from our incredible faculty and students over the past few months. Since the start of the pandemic, our college has been very busy helping with COVID-19 research and response efforts across Oklahoma. I am pleased that this issue of our magazine highlights a few of the many faculty members and students who have conducted groundbreaking research in the past two years.
As we apply the lessons learned during the pandemic, it is evident now more than ever that we must make significant investments in our public health infrastructure. The pandemic exposed an already eroded public health system and devastated the public health and health care workforces across the nation. Our college is committed to revitalizing the public health system and rebuilding these workforces in Oklahoma.
To accomplish this, we are expanding our public health pipeline programs that include practice-based education. In 2021, we established the Center for Public Health Practice, which is focused on strengthening and advancing existing partnerships with federal, state and local health agencies. The center is also developing partnerships with community-based organizations and philanthropic groups across Oklahoma. Specifically, the center is emphasizing multidisciplinary, interprofessional, and multisector collaborations to improve health in our state.
Another exciting development was the launch of the undergraduate degree in public health on the Norman campus in 2018. In collaboration with the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences, we introduced three degree tracks in public and community health. As of summer 2022, a total of 153 students have graduated across all three degree tracks. Each semester, an average of 450 students are enrolled across all public and community health courses. There are currently 222 majors across the three degree tracks. Our faculty and staff are excited to continue to grow the program and increase interest in public health among undergraduate students.
I’d also like to highlight the recent creation of the Sovereignty, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (SEDI) Office within the Hudson College of Public Health. Not only are these values a cornerstone of our academic health system, but they are also central to public health. The SEDI Office will build on our commitment to cultivating a welcoming environment for everyone by providing resources and support to faculty, staff, and students.
The headline of this issue —“The Pandemic Paradox”— refers to the paradox of increased public health awareness and financial support during the pandemic, while at the same time experiencing decreased trust in public health and a declining public health workforce. Needless to say, we learned a lot over the last two years. We came together as a global community to develop testing and vaccines with unprecedented speed and collaboration. Within our college, we quickly pivoted to remote learning and recognized the potential of this new platform to expand our reach. As the chief COVID-19 officer for the University of Oklahoma, I am proud of the exceptional work that we have accomplished across all three campuses throughout the pandemic.
At the Hudson College of Public Health, our faculty and researchers are on the cutting edge of transmission modeling, data collection, and disease surveillance. Yet, many of us witnessed firsthand the misinformation that infected our communities and the resulting backlash against public health measures—like masking and vaccinations—in our state and throughout the nation. This was tough, and at times it felt like an uphill battle. However, we learned from our experiences. I’m a firm believer that we will recover public trust in our field and rebuild the public health workforce through education, innovation, and leadership.
A Word of Thanks
As we look to the future, I would like to thank you all for helping us continue to provide exemplary public health education to our undergraduate students in Norman and graduate students in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We are grateful for the generosity of our current and past donors who realize investing in these talented students is an investment in the future of public health. Our college looks forward to continuing to provide enhanced training and exceptional research opportunities to students as we grow and strengthen the public health workforce.
Dale W. Bratzler, D.O., M.P.H., MACOI, FIDSA
Hudson College of Public Health