Kansas University officials are planning for a new School of Public Health that could be in place at KU Medical Center as early as next fall.
Plans for the school have been presented to the Kansas Board of Regents for consideration, and could come before the full board for approval by December.
“We’ve been working on it for four years, maybe,” said Barbara Atkinson, KUMC’s executive vice chancellor. “It’s just something the region absolutely needs.”
While states such as Colorado and Oklahoma both have academic institutions with schools of public health, there aren’t any in Kansas.
Such a school would prepare students for government policymaking careers; health management positions in places like hospitals, insurance companies or bioscience firms; or for careers as researchers or policy analysts.
When epidemics arise — the H1N1 influenza virus last year, for example — it’s public health officials who the country depends on for accurate research and information, Atkinson said.
KUMC already has an Institute for Community and Public Health, which includes four different departments.
Those four — the two departments of preventive medicine and public health in Kansas City and Wichita, biostatistics and health policy and management — would become part of the new school. The programs offered would be bolstered by new doctoral programs in public health and biostatistics. An existing general master’s degree in public health would be revised to develop five new academic concentrations.
Glen Cox, director of KUMC’s public health institute, has been working to formulate the new plan.
If the regents give it the green light, the school will begin a search for a dean this winter, Atkinson said, and could be in a position to apply for accreditation as early as mid-2011. That process can take three years or more, making full accreditation for the school possible by 2014-15.
Cox said that he and others involved in the planning have taken some heat for pursuing new opportunities that require new resources in a budget crunch.
“If you don’t have a plan to move things ahead, people will leave you in the dust,” he said.
Eventually, the school will require between $2 million and $2.5 million more annually to bring on a dean and a few new faculty members, though not all of that will be required upfront. Currently, the public health institute operates with a budget of about $10 million, Cox said.
“It’s not as if we’re talking about starting from the ground up,” he said.
Cox and Atkinson said they hoped to secure private donations — including offering a naming opportunity for the school.
New tuition dollars will also help cover expenses, Atkinson said. Though KUMC is not asking for taxpayer support now, Atkinson said that, in the long run, the new school may ask for state dollars to bring on more faculty and add more capacity.
While the school will be housed at KUMC, there may some opportunities for collaborations on the Lawrence campus, Cox said.
KU’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning, for example, will offer some environmental health courses that could satisfy some public health degree requirements, he said. It would also supplement research at KU’s National Cancer Institute.