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Medical School Reorganizes Public Health Sciences, Creating a Division and Three Departments

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Department of Public Health Sciences – the national leader in research funding from the National Institutes of Health – has been elevated to a division at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and its three sections are becoming departments.

The announcement came from William Applegate, M.D., M.P.H., dean and senior vice president of Wake Forest University Health Sciences. He named Gregory L. Burke, M.D., M.S., as division director, Stephen S. Rich, Ph.D., associate division director, Lynne E. Wagenknecht, Dr.P.H., chairwoman of the Department of Epidemiology, Mark A. Espeland, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Biometry, and Doug Easterling, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy.

“This reorganization will create a structure that will better integrate the Public Health Sciences mission with the medical school's academic, clinical, and public policy missions,” Applegate said. “Certainly, public health sciences more than deserves division status, and the sections deserve promotion to departments.”

The department ranked first nationally among similar departments in NIH funding in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2004, with $40,251,212 in support. The Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California was second with just over $37 million. Figures for 2005 are not yet available.

To carry out that $40 million in NIH studies (and another $4 million or so of studies financed by foundations and industry), the department has 51 full-time faculty members and 262 staff members. Another 37 faculty members from other medical school departments hold secondary appointments in the department.

Public Health Sciences specializes in collaborative and multi-disciplinary research, working with investigators here and throughout the nation. Many faculty and staff hold leadership positions in coordinating and conducting major national studies involving thousands of volunteers.

Over the years, the studies have involved many thousands of Triad residents. For example, Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) involved 4,000 randomly selected Forsyth County residents over age 45.

Faculty members also work actively with local organizations in designing and evaluating programs to prevent conditions such as AIDS, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Burke explained that there are two primary models of academic public health sciences – schools of public health and public health groups that work within a medical school setting.

“Schools of public health have a mission that emphasizes both teaching and research, while groups such as ours are much more focused on the research component,” he said “Wake Forest does have a relatively small graduate program in health sciences research that encompasses epidemiology, health services research, population genetics, and other elements of public health.”

“Our model complements institutions such as the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill,” he said.

The medical school has two other divisions: surgical sciences and radiologic sciences.

Burke is professor of public health sciences and received his M.D. degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, where he also completed a subsequent master’s degree in preventive medicine and epidemiology.

Burke’s research includes the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease, measurement issues in epidemiology, chronic disease prevention, and translating scientific data both for physicians and for the general public. He is the national steering committee chairman for the multi-center NHLBI-funded Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.

Rich is professor of public health sciences and a 1973 graduate of North Carolina State University. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University. His research is genetic epidemiology of human disease with a focus on diabetes and its complications. He is leading an international effort to identify genes contributing to risk of type 1 diabetes.

Wagenknecht, professor of public health sciences-epidemiology, is a 1982 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College, and got both her M.P.H. and Dr. P.H. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. She is a chronic disease epidemiologist who has done extensive research in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, leading the national coordinating center for two national diabetes studies and serving as deputy director for a third.

Espeland, professor of public health sciences-biometry, is a 1974 graduate of Arizona State University and received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Rochester. Much of his work has focused on finding better methods to understand data that contain measurement errors and are incomplete, which he has applied to research in many biomedical fields. He currently helps coordinate studies designed to identify strategies for preventing cardiovascular disease and cognitive and physical decline.

Easterling, associate professor of public health sciences-social sciences and health policy, is a 1978 graduate of Carleton College, and got a master’s degree in quantitative psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

His research focuses on community-based health promotion, a method in which those individuals whose health is to be improved are directly engaged in the process of defining the problems and developing the solutions.

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Media Contacts: Robert Conn, rconn@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, or Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, at (336) 716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 30th in primary care, 41st in research and 14th in geriatrics training among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

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