New Dean sees public health serving critical role

By Sally Crocker

Dennis Thombs“Our graduates are doing incredible things to make the world a better, safer, healthier place,” said Dennis Thombs, PhD, newly named Dean of the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

After serving for the last year as Interim Dean, Dr. Thombs was selected from among a pool of national candidates as the leader who will move the SPH forward.

“It’s an exciting time to be in public health,” he said. “We have many opportunities ahead, and so many ways we can impact quality education and outcomes for students, the community and our research partners. As we continue to build our ties locally, we also seek to expand the national and global reach of the SPH.”

Over the last year, Dr. Thombs has met with community leaders and stakeholders, advisory boards, alumni, students, faculty and staff, university leadership, employers and industry colleagues, listening and sharing ideas.

“What we learned from employers is that they need well-rounded public health professionals, leaders who can take on big challenges and wear a lot of ‘different hats’ to help solve some of the most pressing public health concerns facing our world today,” he said.

“When you think about all the career opportunities available – roles addressing health disparities in disadvantaged communities, community-based research, health care access, the environmental and social determinants of population health, health policy and law, as examples – it’s easy to see why public health is so critical today,” Dr. Thombs said. “Here in North Texas, we see public health in action every day, working on Zika and West Nile virus surveillance, infant mortality and health disparities, disease and injury  prevention, environmental issues like air and water quality, social and behavioral interventions to improve people’s lives … and those are just a few of the ways public health makes an impact.”

Dr. Thombs said he also sees new opportunities coming for MHA graduates in this presidential election year, as they will likely be called on to help shape policy and delivery of programs in a rapidly changing health care environment.

“We also look forward to working with the new allopathic medical school opening in 2017, as well as with our colleagues in TCOM, the School of Pharmacy, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Health Professions,” he said.

Community partners, such as Tarrant County Public Health and the JPS Health System, are crucial in providing students with real-world learning and research opportunities, and Dr. Thombs looks forward to strengthening these local partnerships.

“Our mission is to keep building those relationships, to make them even stronger,” he said.

Dr. Thombs has been with the School of Public Health since 2010, having served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health; Acting Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Director of the school’s MPH community health program; and Acting Director for the Texas Prevention Institute.

His career was shaped early on by an interest in substance abuse and addictive behaviors, and he has made major research contributions over the years to the study of alcohol and drug use in the adolescent and young adult population.

Dr. Thombs has authored more than 85 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals, and is the author of one of the leading textbooks on addiction, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, published by the Guilford Press, and now in its fourth edition.  His research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education.

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