Department of Public Health Sciences

Mini History of the Department of Public Health Sciences

The Department of Community Health was formed in 1968 under the leadership of Dr. Nemat O. Borhani. At that time, Dr. Borhani, an MD cardiologist with an MPH, was working for the California State Health Department in Berkeley. The desire of the school was to have a department with a clinical orientation that would be responsible for teaching both the basic and clinical sciences of public health and preventive medicine. The basic sciences involved were considered to be epidemiology, biostatistics and demographics and the clinical sciences were preventive medicine, occupational health, environmental health, and public health.

In the early years, Dr. Borhani was aided greatly by Dr. Jess Kraus, a PhD epidemiologist. The Department had an early interest in migrant health and developed a clinic project using modified motor homes converted to be offices and laboratories equipped to do simple laboratory work in the field at migrant work sites.

Later, the interests of the Department gradually evolved toward cardiovascular epidemiology and the Department entered upon a series of extraordinarily well funded extramural activities that were all multicenter population studies. The first was MR FIT, the multiple risk factor intervention trial. The next was TOHP for trial of hypertension prevention, and efforts to use non-pharmacologic means to control blood pressure. Another major trial was SHEP, for systolic hypertension in the elderly program, which made a very major contribution to understanding the benefits of blood pressure control, and another was the CHS or cardiovascular health study. In addition to these projects, the Department of Community Health's research interests expanded to cover other federally funded studies such as a unique follow-up study on TWINS, the continuation study on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and various multiple pharmaceutical studies as well.

The Department, and specifically Dr. Borhani, was very effective in all of these studies in quality control. He was responsible for introducing the concept of cooperation with the Secretary of State to obtain voter registration tapes as a source of names, addresses and ages of potential participants in large community survey studies.

In 1989 Dr. Borhani stepped down after having served longer than any other founding chair on the medical school faculty.

Dr. C. John Tupper, the founding Dean of the School, became Acting Chair of the Department and served in this capacity until 1991 when Dr. Kenneth Kizer became the chair and the name of the Department was changed to Community and International Health, reflecting Dr. Kizer's personal research and academic activities. Under the chairmanship of Dr. Kenneth Kizer, the Department continued to develop and expand its professional affiliation with the California State Department of Health Services. One collaborative study with the state of significant importance was the Breast Cancer Study, an effort to increase screening and breast cancer prevention. With Dr. Kizer's departure to serve as chief medical officer of the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C., Dr. Tupper again became Acting Chair of the Department from 1994-1995. At that time Dr. Marc Schenker, Chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, was named Chair of the Department of Community and International Health, and the Department was renamed the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine. Its research activities began an increased emphasis on occupational and environmental health as well as other areas of epidemiologic research. There was also an increase in the newly created graduate group in epidemiology.

In 1982, Dr. Philip Weiler joined the Department and became active, with the assistance of Dr. Tupper, in the formation of a Geriatrics Clinic as a part of the Primary Care Center at UCDMC. This program has continued to the present day as a cooperative enterprise with the Division of General Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine. As the focus on geriatrics and aging issues became more relevant to the general public and university interests alike, the Department established the Center for Aging and Health. Dr. Philip G. Weiler was instrumental in the Center's establishment and subsequently became its first director. Dr. Mary Haan succeeded Dr. Weiler and is the current director. She also chairs the Geriatrics-Gerontology Working Group which is a multidisciplinary enterprise with state governmental support. The Alzheimer's Disease Center at UCDMC originated in the Department of Community Health and is now operated by the Department of Neurology. Christine Rozance, M.D., of this department, served as its Medical Director.

The Department is now a major research, teaching and service unit with programs in a wide range of areas relevant to population health, disease prevention, biostatistics and toxicology. Housed within the Department are the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, the Center for Aging and Health, the UC Agricultural Health and Safety Center at Davis, and the Violence Prevention Program. Department faculty are actively involved in epidemiology research and teaching, including the teaching of epidemiology and biostatistics to medical students and at the undergraduate and graduate level. Teaching programs also include occupational and environmental health, community and preventive medicine, geriatrics and gerontology, toxicology and international health. The health focus of the Department efforts include many specific population groups such as women, children, minorities, the aged, agricultural workers and other working populations at increased risk of injury and illness. Health outcomes of particular attention by Department faculty include cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, reproductive and women's health, violence and traumatic injury. The Department is also involved in teaching and research in international health, and coordinates medical student internships overseas.

On July 1, 2004 the department changed its name to Public Health Sciences to better reflect the broader focus of our department faculty and programs.