Yesterday was a momentous day in the life of UMMC. It was one of those “red letter” days that make its way into the history books.
At its regular meeting Thursday, the board of the State Institutions of Higher Learning gave UMMC formal permission to plan a new School of Population Health.
This is exciting! It is a huge undertaking to start a new school. Consider that in 60 years, we've only started four schools on this campus: Nursing in 1958, Health Related Professions in 1971, Dentistry in 1973, and Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences in 2001.
The School of Medicine, which we normally think of as our first school, actually began on the Oxford campus in 1903, and the School of Pharmacy, though we claim it as one of our six schools, was established on the Ole Miss campus in 1916. The school's clinical programs are here on our campus.
If all goes as we expect, the new School of Population Health will open its doors to students in January 2017. It will be the third such school in the country.
Even though formal planning is only beginning, behind-the-scenes work has been going on for months, led by Dr. Bettina Beech, associate vice chancellor for population health, Dr. Josh Mann, and our chief academic officer, Dr. Ralph Didlake.
Dr. Mann's Department of Preventive Medicine, a mainstay of the School of Medicine for most of its history, will become one of four departments in the School of Population Health.
The other departments will be data science, under the direction of Dr. Michael Griswold; population health science, with recruitment of faculty set to begin soon; and eventually, health-care economics.
Of course, what's more important than having a seventh school on the campus is what that school represents.
Population health and disease prevention are the future of health care and health-care delivery. In some ways, they are a contradiction of all we are hard-wired to do - from our training to the way our health-care system is designed.
We are hard-wired to take great care of people who are very sick. Population health is the science of keeping a population healthy. This could be a group of individuals with a certain disease - for example, initiatives aimed at childhood asthma in a defined group of children - or broad-based efforts focused on health, screening and prevention.
For the future we have to retrain our thinking, adjust the focus of the delivery of care, invest in programs that target identification and prevention, and educate future health-care professionals in a different way. We have to think about health as a continuum and take into account social factors that influence personal behaviors and choices.
This shift in perspective from “sick care” to greater emphasis on prevention and the health of populations aligns with the trends in health-care finance. One day in the not-too-distant future we will be reimbursed, not for how many procedures, exams or imaging studies we provide, but for the health status of a group of “covered lives” for whom we are accountable.
At the center of all this will be our School of Population Health. It will play a leading role in our efforts to narrow the gaps in the health disparities that have long plagued our state, and will be a crucial component of our plans to achieve A Healthier Mississippi.