The Mission of the School of Public Health is to create solutions for a healthier community by advancing public health knowledge through research, service, and the education of public health professionals.
Vision: Building on a Diverse Foundation
Vision of the School of Public Health: To be the team of choice for public health education, discovery, and service.
Background & History
From the beginning, the UNTHSC School of Public Health sought to provide critically needed public health education and research to the citizens of North Texas . Indeed, interest in developing a program in Public Health in Fort Worth sprang from the efforts of community leaders and public health officials who saw the need for a strong link between academic health care and community practitioners in this region of the State. The hard work of these community leaders and university officials culminated in July 1995 when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the institution’s request to offer a Master’s of Public Health Degree (M.P.H.) in collaboration with the University of North Texas in Denton . After several years of offering this degree, the Board of Regents authorized the University of North Texas Health Science Center to submit a proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a School of Public Health and to request funds from the Texas Legislature to fund the school and its corresponding programs.
On December 1, 1997 the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) accepted the University of North Texas Health Science Center Public Health Program as an affiliate member. ASPH is the only national organization representing the deans, faculty and students of the 31 schools of public health. Five years later, in June 2002, the School of Public Health was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) for a full 5-year term.
In the fifth year since gaining initial accreditation from CEPH, the School of Public Health has gradually grown in both numbers of students and amount of research dollars, while continuing to maintain strong and vital links with public health professionals and agencies in the community. Being a relatively new school, there is no deep legacy to guide future efforts, and so a road map for the future is essential. The Strategic Plan 2005-2010, then, represents a pivotal moment in the life of the School as it delineates a plan of action that is built upon the strengths and interests of the school’s primary stakeholders.
Strategic Planning Process
The plan sets out goals and objectives that were developed and refined by the faculty and staff of the school, along with the input from students and community partners through a 9-month strategic planning process. The process began through a serious of focus groups held with students and community partners. In all, 12 students and 18 community and research partners participated in the focus groups as a way to provide the school with a valuable perspective on our place within both the service and research sectors of our North Texas region. The intent of the focus group participants was to engage in a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) analysis of the school, which would be used as part of our environmental assessment leading up to the faculty and staff retreat. Faculty and staff were also asked to provide a SWOT analysis of the school, though this information was gathered via email and/or hard copy.
The SWOT analysis revealed a wide variety of issues and concerns for the school as it moves forward. In this context, we are concerned with strengths and weaknesses that are internal to the school, and which would be addressed from that perspective. Some of the major strengths that were consistently identified by all of the focus group participants included excellent location and infrastructure, diversity (both faculty and students), strong links with the community, and reputation/accreditation, while the main weaknesses included lack of status and influence within the Health Science Center and University of North Texas System, student communication skills, faculty teaching and scholarship, and underdeveloped research capabilities.
The focus groups also allowed consideration of opportunities and threats to the school, or factors which are external to the school and that must be recognized and considered in the context of the larger community or region. Some of the opportunities included meeting the expanding needs of Latino communities, addressing the demand for more public health training, and developing more partnerships with researchers and other community organizations in Dallas/Fort Worth. Some of the threats for the school included the lack of public awareness and support for public health, insufficient and uncertain state funding for the school, and competing public health and related types of educational programs.
Overall, then, the focus groups produced extremely valuable information for use in looking 5 to 10 years into the future of the School of Public Health. In studying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that were identified, the school has developed a strong basis upon which to prosper and grow, particularly as it relates to diversity, physical infrastructure and community links. By focusing on these strengths and developing opportunities relating to higher quality education, training and research, the perceived weaknesses and threats should begin to dissipate and lessen over time.
Following the work of these focus groups, the strategic planning process peaked with a day-long retreat in April of 2005 that included both faculty and staff. The main purpose of the retreat was to bring the faculty and staff together to discuss the SWOT analysis and then to, hopefully, begin a discussion around those strategic objectives that they felt should be given the greatest priority in the next 5 to 10 years. To be effective, the SPH leadership felt that this strategic plan must spring from those who will be driving the implementation of the plan, which would include students, community partners, local public health officials, staff and faculty.
Strategic Objectives and Goals
The strategic plan focuses primarily on the areas of research and education, though implicit in the plan’s strategic objectives are the needs and responsibilities of the School as they relate to service in the community, region and state. These strategic objectives are also linked to our longstanding mission statements. First, the School continues to address its service mission to Develop[ing] academic and community partnerships through these new initiatives and our existing programs. Education programs continue to reach out to the community through the public health practice and residency requirements for masters and doctoral students, respectively. Research efforts by faculty also integrate the community’s needs in several high profile projects, including the DREAMS (Diabetes Research, Education and Metabolic Studies) and Promotoras (i.e., lay persons in the community who provide health education and promotion) projects that focus on the health needs, disparities and risk factors of Hispanic persons in the Fort Worth community. Our commitment to service in the community is also seen in our working with public health professionals by including them in our strategic planning focus groups and faculty recruitment efforts. These formal, and sometimes informal, connections to our public health counterparts in the community often lead to additional service opportunities as well.
The school’s primary educational objective is to provide masters and doctoral level degrees and education in public health, and by making the courses accessible to working professionals. In addition, both the masters and doctoral curricula require that students engage in public health practice experience outside of the academic setting in order to provide them actual work experience related to their education. The education objectives also seek to continue our committed service to the state and community by developing high quality education programs that assist public health professionals in attaining critical core competencies in public health. This role of providing continuing and professional education to the public health practitioners in our local, regional and state community is an important one and will only be strengthened through a certificate program that can make public health education and training more accessible. The education objective fully supports our mission of Preparing its graduates to effectively contribute to the practice of public health and Providing accessible educational programs , and to a lesser extent Developing academic and community partnerships.
The school’s primary research objective is to engage in high quality research related to pressing public health concerns, be it locally, statewide, nationally or internationally. One longstanding program to support that objective is the school’s salary return policy that allows faculty to augment their salary by 1/3 of the amount of any contract or grant they receive. In most other schools and universities, the full amount of any grant is used to replace a base amount of often state funding. These new strategic objectives related to research seek to further develop the capabilities of faculty, students (and public health practitioners) to generate research and scholarship that enhances the knowledge base in each of the public health disciplines, thereby improving the public’s health. In the first research objectives, there will be an effort made to determine whether there are other ways to support and develop the research enterprise of the school, in addition to the existing salary return policy. The second new research objective represents a possible project around which all of the school’s faculty may join to further public health research. As an added bonus, because of the potential value of the research capability, other researchers in the region may be encouraged to collaborate, particularly around local, community health issues. This in turn may lead to further service in the community through specific, targeted research pertaining to local needs.
Ongoing Development and Evaluation
The next phase in this strategic planning process will be to translate these strategic objectives and goals into active tactics and actions. Subcommittees within the school have already begun to craft these action plans, starting with the Planning & Evaluation Committee and eventually to include those students and community partners who participated in the focus groups earlier in this process. As with any strategic plan, this is meant to be a fluid and ongoing process, and objectives and goals as stated previously will be modified as the environment (both internal and external) changes and evolves.
Evaluation of these objectives and goals will take place in the context of our annual reporting requirements through the targets and indicators that will be developed as part of each action plan. In addition, the Planning & Evaluation Committee has recommended that an annual retreat’ or similar type of convening for the faculty and staff be held every spring to discuss and consider the strategic objectives and overall direction of the school during the previous year. It is important for this type of reflection to ensure that there is ongoing and committed support for the strategic plan, and then to accommodate any adjustments or revisions that would need to be made.