One hundred years after its founding, the Yale School of Public Health is grappling with a challenge: how to improve public health in the Elm City while also encouraging faculty and students to think globally.
“There is definitely a strong interest in global health, but that doesn’t diminish the contributions to the city,” said Elaine O’Keefe, professor of public health and executive director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale.
In 1915, Charles-Edward Amory Winslow founded the Department for Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine. As the first recipient of the Anna M.R. Lauder Professorship, Winslow was a strong advocate for public health, particularly in Connecticut. While public health practitioners at Yale since Winslow have broadened their scope of influence, his legacy — which involved improving sanitation in New Haven, transforming the State Board of Health into the State Department of Health and focusing on the most underserved areas of the state — has continued until today.
Kaveh Khoshnood SPH ’89 GRD ’95, professor of epidemiology at the public health school and program director of the Global Health Studies Program at Yale College, said the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement and the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Clinic are testaments to this commitment. CARE was established in 2007 to identify solutions to New Haven’s health challenges, and has completed door-to-door surveys of New Haven to identify residents’ health concerns. The Cornell Scott-Hill Health clinic, founded by Cornell Scott SPH ’68 in 1968 as the state’s first community health center, serves more than 36,000 patients each year, mostly within disadvantaged neighborhoods.
While Khoshnood said there are numerous examples throughout the school’s 100-year history of faculty and students bridging the gap between academia and the community, O’Keefe said that the School’s HIV prevention initiative, authorized by the Connecticut State Legislature in 1990, stands out as a major accomplishment at the school.
“The syringe exchange was one of the major contributions that the School of Public Health has made,” O’Keefe said.
In the late 1980s, a small group of Yale public health researchers, supported by local activists, started a syringe exchange program in New Haven in response to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The syringes were distributed by a van that parked in strategic locations to target intravenous drug users. On the first day of operation, only 13 users came to exchange their syringes. But since then, the program has grown substantially — in 2013, the van took 50,000 dirty needles out of circulation.
In recent years, a new emphasis on global health has emerged alongside New Haven-centric concerns.
“In the last decade in particular, we dramatically expanded the global reach of our program,” said Dean of the School of Public Health Paul Cleary.
The school’s Division of Global Health was established in 1992, and in 2009, was replaced by the Global Health concentration, which emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. The Global Health Leadership Institute, led by Branford Master Elizabeth Bradley and Michael Skonieczny was also created in that year, as was the Global Health Initiative, which supports global health activities campus-wide. Eight years ago, nearly 800 undergraduates petitioned the university to make a graduate level global health class available to undergraduates, and last year, the school decided to expand its undergraduate Global Health Studies program.
Still, Khoshnood noted that a new focus on global health may have detracted from solving public health challenges on Yale’s doorstep.
“There are schools of public health with very substantive community health divisions,” Khoshnood said. “We don’t have one.”
Khoshnood said that the closest the public health school has to such a division is a department called the Department for Community Health, but said that it is not as old as its counterparts at other institutions.
He said that initiatives such as the needle exchange program represent a “healthy marriage” between community outreach and academia, but that he was not aware of many other measures of this kind.
“There is the potential to do much more,” Khoshnood said, adding that the balance between global or domestic health research at the school is mostly dependent on faculty interest, and not on any overarching direction the school is trying to pursue.
The Yale School of Public Health is located at 60 College St.