August 26, 2010

Cooper takes over leadership of VUSM’s MPH program

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William Cooper, M.D., MPH, has been named to direct VUSM’s Master of Public Health program. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Cooper takes over leadership of VUSM’s MPH program

As Vanderbilt University School of Medicine's newly accredited Master of Public Health program begins its 15th year, its leadership is changing hands.

William Cooper, M.D., MPH, professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine and associate director of the program since 2001, will now direct the program that has been led by Wayne Ray, Ph.D., professor of Preventive Medicine, since its inception in 1996.

Cooper is a graduate of the first MPH class, comprised of seven members. After earning his MPH he launched a research program looking at safety of medications in pediatric populations, including children enrolled in government insurance programs and those with chronic health conditions.

The two-year MPH program, which provides training for patient-oriented researchers who will conduct studies with large sample sizes, is open to physicians and other doctoral-level health care professionals. A five-year joint M.D./MPH degree is also offered for medical students, but students must apply separately to both programs.

“Our MPH program is designed to help create a critical mass of fellows and faculty who conduct research and who can think in terms of epidemiology and public health,” Cooper said. “There's an increasing presence of public health on our campus, and the MPH program trains fellows and junior faculty to really look at things through the lens of epidemiology and public health.”

In July, the program was accredited for five years by the Council on Education for Public Health, an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and certain public health programs offered in settings other than schools of public health.

Vanderbilt's program is set up so that the students spend almost every day in class during the first year. Courses are taught in monthlong blocks, with a semester's worth of classes being taught in a month. Faculty come from a variety of departments and programs — sports medicine, psychiatry, gastroenterology, emergency medicine, surgery, Owen Graduate School of Management, etc.

The second year includes a practicum and a research project, supervised by a faculty mentor. Students have conducted their practicum in a variety of settings, including studying maternal-infant HIV transmission in Mozambique and working at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“Faculty members Wayne Ray, Marie Griffin and Bill Schaffner all invested a lot of time and energy getting this program off the ground,” Cooper said. “They worked to develop a structure that allows us to provide individualized attention — advising and resources — to each of the students. Our graduates leave with a toolkit to do a variety of things, so that they can be successful in academic and public health careers.”

There are currently 27 students in the MPH program, which has graduated 116 students since its inception. Almost 90 percent of those graduates remain in academic medicine or public health fields, Cooper said.

Cooper and other leaders have worked with Andre Churchwell, M.D., associate dean for Diversity in Graduate Medical Education and Faculty Affairs, and George Hill, Ph.D., associate dean for Diversity in Medical Education, to increase diversity in the program's applicant pool. A scholarship has been established in honor of David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., a former U.S. Surgeon General.

“We've seen a large increase in the number of applicants from underrepresented groups since we began the Satcher program and we couldn't be happier,” Cooper said.