A photo of a doctor putting a bandaid on a woman's upper arm.
The school will combine existing departments with population and public health programs currently housed in VCU’s School of Medicine under its new umbrella. (Getty Images)

VCU announces new School of Population Health

The dedicated school aims to improve health equity in Virginia, train much-needed public health workforce.

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Virginia Commonwealth University announced today the creation of a dedicated School of Population Health, the 15th school or college belonging to its academic enterprise.

“VCU is here to make a profound difference in the lives of people everywhere,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “Our goal is to help promote thriving communities for all people. The VCU School of Population Health will further that goal with its mission to reduce and one day eliminate long-standing socioeconomic and geographic health disparities that have plagued Virginia for centuries. We are poised to educate a modern, talented and well-prepared public health workforce that is ready to serve the commonwealth. We will also advance research that helps us to strengthen approaches to public health in Virginia, nationally and globally.”

Effective April 1, the school will combine existing departments with population and public health programs currently housed in VCU’s School of Medicine under its new umbrella. Beginning with the fall 2023 semester, students can pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences and healthcare policy and research.

VCU has named Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., as the interim founding dean of the school, effective April 1. A national expert in population health, health equity and associate vice president for population and public health strategic initiatives in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, Sheppard has led a team to make the vision of this new school a reality.

“I am honored to lead the School of Population Health as the interim founding dean,” said Sheppard. “I believe deeply in this work and know that our location, commitment and strong community partnerships allow us to be uniquely poised to help address public health and health equity challenges in Virginia.”

The school will be home to the first Master of Public Health program with a concentration on cancer health equity. Students can engage in community-centered research and be immersed in experiential learning with VCU’s many public health partners, including the Virginia Department of Health.

“Our safety-net mission has always extended beyond clinical care,” said Marlon Levy, M.D., interim senior vice president for health sciences at VCU and CEO for VCU Health System. “It also includes how we approach education, research and community service. Together with our public health partners, we will create a workforce that will make Virginia a hub for developing, evaluating and implementing high-impact programs to reduce disparities in health that impact millions of people across the country.”

To create an independent academic entity focused on population health, VCU is moving the departments of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Health Behavior and Policy from VCU’s School of Medicine to the new School of Population Health. About 100 students currently enrolled in public health programs across the aforementioned departments will transition their classes.

The vision for the school was born over two decades ago, long before COVID-19 put a public spotlight on the stark disparities that exist in the United States. VCU’s Master of Public Health (MPH) has been fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health since 1996.

“Establishing a dedicated School of Population Health is testament that our impact in that area is on par with VCU’s other exceptional professional schools dedicated to health sciences,” Levy said.