New Northwestern Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) plans to double research activity of medical school

Interview with Rowland W Chang, MD/MPH

Dr Rowland Chang - Photo Courtesy of Feinberg School of Medicine

Rowland W Chang, MD/MPH
Senior Associate Dean for Public Health
Director, Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM)
Professor in Preventive Medicine and Medicine-Rheumatology
Feinberg School of Medicine

Q: What is the new Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM)?

A: The new Institute is a collaboration of nine centers, five of which are based on existing entities and four of which are brand new. The Center for Healthcare Studies; the Buehler Center on Aging, Health, and Society; the Center for Global Health; the Center for Population Health Sciences (born out of Preventive Medicine); and the Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes (born out of Medical Social Sciences), are all existing centers and are being integrated into IPHAM now. New centers include the Center for Community Health, the Center for Behavior and Health, the Center for Engineering and Health, and the Center for Education in Public Health, which will coordinate the existing Master’s programs and also offer a new Health Sciences integrated PhD program starting this September.

While some of the centers are new, all of the work that will be coordinated by each Center already exists in some form within the medical school. The Institute is re-organizing the work so that it is structured around themes and reduces redundancy, while promoting collaboration. The basic goal of the institute is to help double the research activity of the medical school. It is the dry lab approach to increasing the research we are doing in fields such as epidemiology, bioinformatics, biostatistics, health services research, outcomes research, community health research, and research in international settings, where we would like to become more prominent.

Q: The IPHAM website states that the Institute’s ultimate goal is to “accelerate innovation at the interface of medicine and public health and achieve measurable improvements in health for patients and populations.” What does the interface of public health and medicine mean exactly?

A: A lot of solutions to our community’s health care problems require that we are better at delivering healthcare when patients come to their doctor and are admitted to the hospital. We want to improve our physicians and our hospital systems, which will not only help the individual but also affect larger groups of people. At the same time it will help to incorporate the more traditional public health community health matters.

Take smoking for example: there is an intersection between physicians treating a nicotine addition, public health campaigns discouraging people from starting to smoke, and policy changes on public smoking. Attacking the issue from multiple angles has made a great difference in reducing the smoking rates in this country

We need to think of this kind of approach, clinic- as well as community-based, as a comprehensive means of strategy toward reducing healthcare costs by helping to prevent diseases that lead to high costs. Clearly, the work needs to be done on both sides: on the prevention side and on the healthcare side, and then also include the policy level. We need to look at these solutions in an integrated fashion, as opposed to having isolated sets of people working in silos that do not interface with each other.

Q: How will the Institute facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-campus research and communication?

A: The Institute will make it easier for other faculty, programs, departments, and schools to effectively interact with the medical school. We are interested in looking at broad topics such as health economics and health policy, so there is a lot of potential and interest in bringing together folks from, for example, Kellogg or economics from the Evanston campus. We plan to reach out and attract collaborators; the fact that McCormick’s Sanjay Mehrotra is the Director of the Center for Engineering and Health of the Institute shows that we are already working across schools, and will even further assist us in obtaining these desired cross-school, interdisciplinary partnerships.

I, personally, have spent a lot of time encouraging collaboration and connecting people. I want to cross boundaries; my own work crosses at least four of these Centers. My research is out of the Center for Population Health Sciences, but it also involves behaviorally issues, and is done in the community. And I teach in the MPH program which is part of the Center for Education in Public Health. I am a strong example of what we are trying to achieve: people who are trying to find solutions to problems by involving a lot of other people.

IPHAM Homepage

Q: How does global health fit into the Institute?

A: The Center for Global Health is a founding center of the Institute, but we are finding that there are international activities occurring in other centers of which the Center for Global Health had not been aware. Our expectation is that this collaboration will benefit all of the participating Centers by providing a platform for researchers to learning what is happening at Centers across the Institute. There are a lot of researchers and clinicians interested in global health, and expanding the participation in these international activities is essential for putting forward successful grant proposals.

Q: This sounds like a big undertaking and certainly took years of planning, right?

A: We have been discussing how to make public health a larger focus of the medical school, which culminated with a proposal to change the name to “School of Medicine and Public Health” two years ago. It started with the University’s strategic planning process. Though the proposal we submitted did not pass, it got the attention of the President, Provost, and Dean of the Medical School. We kept working at it. One of the first things Dean Eric G. Neilson did when he became the new Dean of the medical school last fall was to convene a group of leaders to create the new Institute. And we have been working on it ever since.

Q: That’s an impressive quick turnaround. Finally, is there an official launch date?

A: There will be an official launch date sometime in September. We have full commitments from all participating Centers, Directors and associated faculty. We will announce new faculty opportunities and make a national splash in the fall.

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