In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare famously penned, “What’s in a name?” I’ve been asked that many times since our college changed its name in July. It may not have meant much to Juliet in the case of her beloved, but for the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, it speaks to the very essence of who we are.
Just what is public health? And why are we moving toward becoming an accredited college of public health? My explanation usually starts where all great stories do – at the beginning.
Long before national health-care reform came into the spotlight, students and faculty in our college and at OSU were solving Oregon’s health challenges. One-third of deaths are attributed to poor eating, lack of physical activity and tobacco use. More than 75 percent of our health-care spending is on people with chronic conditions, especially in our aging population. The good news is that the majority of these chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, are preventable.
That’s where we come in. Inspired by our land grant mission and the university’s strategic focus on improving human health and wellness, our college is changing its name to reflect our continued evolution and deep-rooted strengths and commitment to ensuring lifelong health and well-being for every person, every family and every community in Oregon and beyond. In short, we are transforming our college to respond to the public health challenges of the 21st century.
And what is public health? It is most simply defined as organized community efforts to protect, preserve and promote health and prevent disease, disability and death. It’s a definition that has evolved and continues to evolve as we focus not only on prolonging life, but also improving its quality. On not only protecting health, but also promoting it. It’s about more than individuals; it’s about local and global communities.
Because public health is a community effort, a particularly innovative approach at OSU is the collaboration and partnerships formed through a program known as Outreach Collaboratives for a Healthy Oregon, or OCHO. OCHO ties our campus to every corner of the state, forging successful partnerships between county Extension offices and health departments for public health and human sciences practice improvement. We believe that community engagement is paramount to a successful public health solution and that outreach begins with the answer; engagement ends with one. That philosophy also guides the mission of our new Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.
In fact, our new name reflects the college’s synergy of teaching, research and outreach – instrumental to our role as a land grant institution and part and parcel of the university’s strategic plan for improving health and the college’s “Healthy People” partnership with the colleges of pharmacy and veterinary medicine.
Most importantly, we are becoming an accredited college of public health because we have a responsibility and privilege to shape the country and our world, creating lifelong health and well-being for every person, every family, every community.