Meet Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, new Dean of the School of Public Health
Dr. Dharamsi brings more than 25 years of transdisciplinary and international teaching, research and leadership experience to his new role. Born in Tanzania, he is a first-generation college graduate with a deep commitment to student success.
His professional career includes work as regional director of an early childhood development program for the Aga Khan Development Network in East Africa, where he led more than 200 staff members across three countries, fostered consensus in complex social, cultural, political and economic environments and led major international fundraising initiatives.
He later helped lead the University of British Columbia’s Center for International Health, which focused on advancing health equity in underserved communities, along with advancing translational and applied research in primary care settings.
Dharamsi was named as the founding associate dean of social accountability, professionalism and community and global engagement at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine. He served for four years as dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professor of Public Health at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Before joining HSC in August, he served as senior advisor to the provost and visiting professor at New Mexico State University.
Dharamsi shared a little about himself, his goals for the future and what led him to the School of Public Health.
Please share a little about yourself
As a minoritized immigrant, I wasn’t expected to go to college. I was fortunate to have extraordinary teachers, who went above and beyond to help students like me succeed. For them, teaching was a calling. My teachers were my role models, and there was nothing more that I wanted in life than to become a teacher (or a soccer player —I was scouted by the Bristol Rovers —and can’t wait for the World Cup to come to Dallas in 2026!).
I was the first in my family to attend college and began my career as an inner-city schoolteacher. I taught in a school like the one I attended — my students struggled daily with socioeconomic, cultural and language barriers. I dedicated my work to creating an inclusive learning environment that fostered hope, confidence and resilience, enabling students to discover that they have a purposeful and impactful place in the world. I also noticed that poor health was adversely affecting their ability to learn, so I went back to school to study ways I could help with these concerns, leading to my graduate, interdisciplinary degrees focused on the intersection of health, education, ethics, ethnography and social epidemiology.
What attracted you to the HSC School of Public Health?
The moment I read the SPH’s mission and statement of commitment, I knew immediately that this was where I would find a strong sense of purpose and belonging. SPH provides an exceptional opportunity to be part of an institution where serving others first is a core value. My career path is heavily influenced by that spirit and ethic of service — giving freely of one’s time and knowledge to help improve the quality and conditions of life in society, particularly among our most vulnerable communities. I was deeply inspired by the SPH’s high-performing, community-engaged, health equity-focused global public health mission. It reflects my life’s work.
In contrast to other programs around the country, our students gain extensive practical learning opportunities out in the community so they can hit the ground running once they graduate.
Why is public health so important, and how can our school lead the way locally and globally?
Public health is about health equity, preventing disease and so much more — we know that only about 20% of health outcomes are determined by access to clinical medicine.
Over the last two centuries, U.S. life expectancy has more than doubled to almost 80 years, due largely to public health advancements related to the causes, detection and control of diseases, and improvements in health policy related to sanitation, clean water, better housing conditions, vaccines, control of infectious diseases, climate concerns, food inspections, sewage systems and other social improvements.
I see our school leading the way in preparing 21st-century graduates to play a critical role in improving population health and addressing social and institutional inequities and living conditions impacting the quality of life.
Here are several key opportunities and challenges for us, aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals:
- Diversity — The U.S. is more diverse and multiracial than ever, with people of color representing close to 50% of the total By 2040, the entire nation will be a majority-minority population. Six states are already there — Texas is one, yet our public health workforce has too little resemblance to the diverse populations we serve, leaving many feeling excluded and marginalized. We will need to amplify our efforts to recruit diverse teams of students, faculty and staff.
- Aging — By the year 2030, the number of people over 60 will increase by 56% globally — from 900 million to 1.5 billion. The number of Americans above age 65 is expected to double, from roughly 50 million today to nearly 100 million by 2060. The epidemiologic implications will impact how we prepare our public health workforce to respond with competence and compassion.
- Global Engagement — We live in an interconnected world. We must continue to globalize our public health curriculum to foster cultural humility and prepare our graduates with a deeper understanding of the connection between international and local public health issues.
- Major depression has increased among U.S. adolescents and young adults. Suicide deaths have risen nationally by more than 30% since 1999. Major depression is projected to be the leading global public health concern by 2030.
- Climate concerns will continue to be a significant public health focus — to protect our world from increasing levels of drought, food insecurity and extreme weather conditions.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current and future students?
As you reflect on your purpose in life and your educational journey, be inspired by Cicero’s words: “Non nobis solum nati sumus,” which translates to, “Not for ourselves alone.” This Latin motto is meant to inspire others to contribute to the greater good of humanity, apart from their own interests.
What has been your greatest personal or professional accomplishment so far?
While at the University of British Columbia, I had the privilege of working alongside students from a wide range of disciplines to lead an extensive, university-wide initiative that resulted in a flagship project called the Ethics of International Engagement and Service Learning. Our work continues to stimulate a heightened awareness of the importance of being attentive to human dignity in all outreach and research activities.
What is the best book you’ve read this year and why?
“Where Hope Takes Root: Democracy and Pluralism in an Interdependent World,” by Aga Khan IV. We are increasingly finding ourselves in divisive, polarized and polarizing environments. This book makes a compelling case for pluralism, ethical sensitivity and altruism as foundational to a peaceful and effective democracy.
Long walks, beach vacations and global adventures.
Biggest pet peeves?
Negativity and disrespect.
What makes you happiest?