At the turn of the century, there were various key political and social factors in Canada that resulted in increased attention on public health. The Walkerton E. coli outbreak (2000) was one of them. The SARS epidemic (2003), which triggered federal action in Canada to plan for a well-prepared public health response to future crises, was another.
Reflecting on that time period, Sylvie Stachenko, dean of the School from 2009 to 2011, says, “With these factors at play, there was renewed interest and support for public health. There was a desire to build capacity to address complex issues, such as mental health, addictions and chronic disease.”
“As we entered the 21st century, there was no formal school of public health in Canada,” says Tom Marrie, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry from 2004 to 2009. While some universities had public health sciences departments, none had a faculty with a dedicated focus on creating new knowledge and training professionals to advance public health.
Marrie thought this needed to change. He discussed the idea with former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry Doug Wilson who shared his perspectives on the importance of promoting health and preventing disease at the population level.
“We rely on physicians to treat individuals,” explains Marrie, “But our society also depends on individuals who have responsibility for the health of a population–that’s what public health is about.”
Together, these two public heath champions approached then Provost Carl Amrhein with the idea.
“It was a very important day when Tom Marrie and Doug Wilson came to me and said, ‘We think we need a new faculty of public health.’”
Together, Marrie and Wilson proposed the former Department of Public Health Sciences and the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry form the core of the new faculty, along with the Centre for Health Promotion Studies.
“Rarely does a dean offer to surrender part of his faculty,” explains Amrhein.
It was in this context that Amrhein struck a task force in January 2005 to develop a faculty of public health.
The task force, chaired by Wilson, consulted extensively with students, deans and faculty across campus. Support and approvals were obtained from the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta.
Amrhein supported the task force recommendation to create a stand-alone faculty, as did the Province of Alberta. “With this decision, the University of Alberta would deliver a contemporary, best-in-class, world standard of public health professional,” explains Amrhein.
Former Interim Dean Lory Laing (2011-2013) was a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences when the decision was made to create the new faculty. She recalls thinking at the time that the new faculty would be important for the University of Alberta, the province and beyond.
“The new faculty would be able to focus research, education, and community engagement on a disease prevention and health promotion model—one that would be distinct from a curative medical model,” comments Laing.
The faculty was also slated to become a source of public health expertise for individuals, communities, organizations and government agencies.
In addition to Marrie and Wilson, key players included Roger Palmer, appointed interim dean (2006-2008) to get the faculty up on its feet; Kim Raine, former director of the Centre for Health Promotion Studies; and Nicola Cherry, former chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences.
“The vision for the School of Public Health came from members of the academic community,” says Amrhein.
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