Courtesy of Saad Omer

Saad Omer has been involved in the field of global and public health since the age of 19, a path that’s taken him from Karachi to Connecticut. Now, after four years in New Haven as an associate dean of the School of Medicine and the inaugural director of the Institute for Global Health, Omer is leaving Yale. 

Dean of the Yale School of Medicine Nancy Brown, interim dean of the Yale School of Public Health Melinda Pettigrew and interim dean of the Yale School of Nursing Holly Powell Kennedy announced Omer’s departure in a joint statement on Thursday. 

Effective June 1, 2023, Omer will be heading to Texas to serve as dean of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Omer’s time at Yale has been marked by his leadership of the Yale Institute for Global Health, or YIGH, and contribution to advancements in COVID-19 monitoring, vaccine and policy initiatives. 

“We are at that turning point where the nature of public health is changing to be responsive,” Omer told the News on the topic of  his transition. “My goal would be to help redefine modern public health, through establishing a school that is decidedly consequentialist, [which means] that the value of your actions is determined by the outcomes.”

According to the Jan. 19  statement, the new interim dean of YIGH will be Michael Cappello, chair and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. The University plans to launch a search for a permanent director for YIGH, the statement added.

Joining Yale in 2019, Omer helped found and develop YIGH. He was instrumental in advancing COVID-19 policy, evaluations of vaccine efficacy and initiatives for vaccine distribution. Omer also established faculty networks and initiatives that focused on global health concerns such as malaria, non-communicable diseases and planetary health. In 2022, Omer was elected to the National Academy of Medicine. 

In addition to his directorship of the Yale Institute for Global Health, Omer also holds appointments as an associate dean for global health research, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, a professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, or YSPH, and an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Nursing.

“What gives me reassurance as the inaugural director of the Institute for Global Health, is the fact that the Institute is stable, it’s growing […] it has had an impact,” Omer told the News. “I always think that it’s part of a leader’s job to create a deep bench, to make sure that the programs are sustainable, not just exciting.”

Key to his philosophy, Omer explained, was an emphasis on collaboration; having built a network of over 200 faculty affiliates, Omer has worked with students and faculty from YSPH to the economics and political science departments. 

Doing so has allowed him to address wide ranging issues within the realm of healthcare, including the development of protocols to survey wastewater for COVID-19 to monitor the transmission of COVID-19 in communities. By integrating partners across the University, Omer was instrumental in creating the Planetary Health Initiative, aided by the support of Scott Strobel, university provost; Nancy Brown and Pericles Lewis, dean of Yale College.

“[Yale] doesn’t make you choose being good at what you do and being collaborative while you’re doing it,” Omer said.

In his new position as a dean at UT Southwestern, Omer hopes to continue developing that collaboration, to see an “economist or an epidemiologist […] working together” and “readjust how we teach.” He also aspires to utilize his inaugural position as a platform to bridge social inequities.

“The fact that [UT Southwestern is] a strong public university system is a way to bridge inequities in access to education and quality public health education,” Omer told the News. “To be building this, and in a medical center, which prides itself in being very research-oriented, has six Nobel Prizes, a ton of National Academy of Medicine members and National Academy of Science members — that, I think, is a perfect combination.”

As he builds UT Southwestern’s public health program, Omer also aspires to instill a philosophy that prioritizes “primacy of evidence” in public health. Rather than developing public health policy based on feeling or opinion, Omer hopes to utilize the opportunity to establish the first major school of public health to mark “a new era in public health.” 

Omer still reflects fondly on his time at Yale. He aims to continue working with collaborators at Yale, building relationships that he describes as “the most fun part of science.” Omer also praised the quality of his colleagues and the support he received from Yale.

“My experience at Yale has been wonderful, to be very honest,” Omer said. “There wasn’t a single morning I didn’t look forward to coming to work. Even sometimes during the pandemic when it was 5:30 a.m. in the morning, either physically or virtually.”

Omer’s colleagues also lauded his leadership at YIGH. Kennedy praised how Omer “was equally committed to ensuring” the participation of nursing students and faculty in YIGH initiatives, including the Global Health Case Competition and YIGH faculty networks. 

According to Michael Skonieczny, deputy director of YIGH, Omer’s leadership was “incredibly inspiring.”

“Dr. Omer’s passion, commitment and decisiveness make him a very effective leader,” Skonieczny wrote to the News. “[He] has positioned Yale well to have a significant impact on some of the most difficult global health issues of our time.”

As Omer begins his final semester at Yale, he emphasized his satisfaction with his students,  noting the “emotional maturity” of the undergraduate and graduate students he has encountered.

“[They] were enthusiastic about global health, were serious about it, were mature about the kinds of barriers you face […] they were gritty,” Omer remarked. “That was actually the most fun part.”

YIGH was founded in 2019.

CHLOE NIELD
GIRI VISWANATHAN