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A century of promoting health

December 16, 2015
In 1915 Charles-Edward Amory Winslow became the first chair of public health at Yale after a donation funded a position to advocate for public health and lead the reform of public health legislation in the state of Connecticut.

The School of Public Health celebrates 100 years of working to stem disease around the world.

For the past several months here at the School of Medicine we’ve been treated to a series of extraordinary events celebrating the centennial of our School of Public Health. Among them are the Milbank Lectures, which have brought to our campus such distinguished speakers as Lynn Goldman, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health; George Howard, Dr.P.H., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health; Harold Jaffe, M.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Pia Britto, Ph.D., of UNICEF; and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D. ’03, M.B.A. ’03. We also saw the awarding of the Winslow Medal, the school’s highest honor, which was given to three leaders in public health: Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Sir Michael Marmot, M.P.H., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and public health, University College London; and Judith Rodin, Ph.D., president of The Rockefeller Foundation.

The theme of the centennial, as Dean Paul Cleary, Ph.D., has said, is innovation through collaboration. At a vibrant point in its history, the school is collaborating with a diverse group of scientists and community members and exerting a positive influence on health throughout the world. Approximately 4,500 graduates of the school are working with international agencies, nonprofit groups, and health ministries in 70 countries around the world to prevent disease, both infectious and chronic.

A 1990 study by the School of Public Health was the first to prove that needle exchange programs could reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The story of our School of Public Health starts 100 years ago, in 1914, with a donation from the family of Anna M.R. Lauder of $500,000 to endow a chair of public health. The recipient would advocate for public health and lead the reform of public health legislation in the state of Connecticut. Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, a bacteriologist who received a master’s degree from MIT in 1910, was appointed to the post in 1915. He would become known as the father of public health in this country.

TThat was the beginning of a century of public health research and practice that has brought advances in prevention of disease around the world. Public health researchers and practitioners at Yale helped bring under control such diseases as rheumatic fever, infectious mononucleosis, and hepatitis. They were among the earliest cancer researchers, and, in 1931, the school established the Yale Poliomyelitis Study Unit. One of that unit’s members, Dorothy Horstmann, M.D., discovered that the poliovirus reached the nervous system via the blood, a finding that led to the development of the Sabin vaccine. After World War II, Yale faculty and alumni studied the effects of radiation as members of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Japan. John D. Thompson, R.N., M.S. ’50, headed the Hospital Administration Program from 1961 to 1988 and developed the Diagnosis Related Groups for coding medical treatments. In 1990, faculty and students at the school conducted a landmark study of the efficacy of needle exchange programs in stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 1997, Michael Merson, M.D., the school’s first dean, launched the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

More recently, students in the school have traveled to Liberia to help the local health ministry fight the Ebola outbreak. Every year our public health students conduct innovative research projects under the auspices of the Downs International Health Student Travel Fellowship. This competitive award honors the renowned epidemiologist Wilbur G. Downs, M.D., M.P.H., who encouraged students to get out of the classroom and into the field.

Our public health alumni continue to play a crucial role in protecting public health and in advancing Winslow’s passionate belief that good health and long life are the birthright of everyone.

As part of the centennial celebrations, our colleagues have prepared a video that traces the history of the School of Public Health. I invite all of you in the medical school community to enjoy this video and join our colleagues in celebrating 100 years of innovation and collaboration.