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Dr. Blackburn & LuepkerThe history of the School of Public Health begins long before the school was ever named. The lineage of the school began in 1874 when Charles Hewitt, the secretary of the State Board of Health, began offering a class in sanitary science covering topics in personal and community hygiene, epidemic diseases and physiology.

In the coming decades, various university departments would create programs in public health disciplines such as biostatistics, environmental health and epidemiology.

In July 1944, a year before World War II ended, the Board of Regents passed a motion to create the School of Public Health (SPH) in order to bring various public health disciplines under one roof. Gaylord Anderson was named to head the new school. Anderson was aiding the war effort by serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Famed student health service director Ruth Boynton served in Anderson’s place until he returned from the war. The first graduating class numbered a mere 16 students while the next class swelled to 66 graduates thanks to the end of World War II.

In the years that followed, SPH continued to grow in size. In 1954, SPH consolidated its physical presence, then spread across five buildings on campus, into two-and-a-half floors of the newly constructed Mayo Memorial Building. At the same time, the school continued to expand in terms of academic research and educational programs.

The school was the first in the country to grant a master’s degree in hospital administration in 1948, and founded the nation’s first doctoral program in epidemiology in 1958. Since then, SPH has embarked on many more firsts, expansions and groundbreaking programs that have benefited citizens across Minnesota and the globe.

Early history of SPH divisions

  • Biostatistics

    The study of “biometry” began at the university in 1924 when Department of Botany Head J. Arthur Harris offered the course to small groups of biological sciences students interested in using statistics as a research tool. Following the death of Harris, Alan Treloar continued to build on Harris’ work by establishing biometry as a department and major within the Graduate School.

    Biometry came under administrative control of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health in 1936 and changed its name to biostatistics to reflect its new affiliation with health disciplines. In 1953, the National Institutes of Health called for a national expansion of biostatistics programs and offered grants to each public health school to help them grow. Mathematician Jacob Bearman capitalized on the increased funding and, by the 1960s, the biostatistics program trained more graduates than any other public health school in the country.

    The division leapt forward into the digital age when, in 1972, it developed its own computer center for the NIH’s large Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.

  • Environmental Health Sciences

    The first existence of the environmental health program traces back to the earliest days of the university when the State Board of Health transferred to the campus and began offering courses in “sanitary sciences” addressing topics in sewage, ventilation, lighting and heating of private homes.

    By the 1930s, the formalized Division of Sanitation and Public Health Engineering had emerged under the direction of Professor George Pierce within what was then known as the University’s Health Department. Later in 1949, Professor Herbert Bosch partnered with Ruth Boynton, director of the health service, to create a program dedicated to the control of environmental hazards called public health engineering and later renamed environmental health.

  • Epidemiology & Community Health
    The academic examination of epidemiology began in 1922 as an elective course offered by the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. In the 1950s, epidemiology became a distinct graduate and research program first under the brief guidance of Franklin Top, and then more earnestly at the hand of Leonard Schuman. In 1958, the university became the first school in the country to officially declare epidemiology to be a graduate school discipline and eligible for a PhD degree.

    The Seven Countries Study
    Also in 1958, the school’s most widely known “first” began: a unique population comparison of diet, risk factors, and rates of heart attack and stroke. Called the Seven Countries Study, it put its chief investigator, Ancel Keys, on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.

    The Seven Countries Study changed the face of public health and how we think about diet, exercise and disease. It added to the school’s reputation as a leader in the study of cardiovascular disease and paved the way for the popularization of the Mediterranean Diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.

    Origins of Academic Epidemiology at Minnesota (by Henry Blackburn)

  • Health Policy & Management

    1977-1986: Center for Health Services Research
    The onset of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s opened a need for health economists to study insurance and health policy. In 1977, under the leadership of John Kralewski, PhD, the Center for Health Services Research was founded at the University of Minnesota in the Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences. Dr. Kralewski hired a group of assistant professors and the center provided a focal point for policy research related to the organization, financing and delivery of health services. Other national projects soon followed including studies on healthcare outcomes, rural hospital programs, nursing home and long-term care, and a series of national HMO studies.  These projects firmly established the center in the national arena.

    1986-1991: Division of Health Services Research and Policy
    In 1986, the center integrated into the School of Public Health and became the Division of Health Services Research and Policy. This period was characterized by significant developments in the teaching program. The faculty began a major commitment to teaching in the Hospital Administration (MHA) and Health Services Research, Policy and Administration (PhD-HSRPA) programs located within the School of Public Health, apart from the division. In 1987, the PhD Program was integrated with the Division.

    1991-1999: Institute for Health Services Research
    In 1991, the division established the MS in Health Services Research (MS-HSRPA) program. With the addition of this new teaching and research program and opportunities for continued growth, the division became the Institute for Health Services Research. Several joint degree programs were added in the late 1990s including Medicine—(PhD/MD), Law—(PhD or MS/JD), Nursing—(MPH/MS), Public Policy—(MS/MPP), and Business Administration—(MPH/MBA).

    1999-2005: Division of Health Services Research and Policy (HSRP)
    In 1999, the institute became the division of Health Management and Policy. The MPH program in Public Health Administration—a longstanding School of Public Health program—was   integrated into the division and soon became the MPH program in Health Administration and Policy (MPH-PHAP).

    2005-present: Division of Health Policy and Management
    With the arrival of the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) and ISP programs in 2005, the division changed its name to reflect the diverse mix of faculty, research and teaching programs. In 2008, the Executive Master of Healthcare Administration and Executive Studies (EMHA) distance online programs replaced the ISP program and five years later, in 2013, the MPH-PHAP program expanded its offerings and launched the Executive Public Health Administration & Policy (E-PHAP) distance online MPH program.

    Today the division is characterized by innovative research, diversified and global education programs, noted research centers, and partnerships with nationally recognized research organizations.

    Research Centers and Outreach
    Since 1992, the division has housed several research centers that promote research, education and the implementation of programs. Since 1995 the division has sponsored the Minnesota Health Services Research Conference, which brings together Minnesota’s health services research community for scholarly presentations and discussions. Presently, the division is engaged in collaborative research initiatives with Medica Research Institute, State Joint Powers Agreement, Mayo Clinic, National Opinion Research Center and the University of Minnesota Medical School.

    View a timeline of the Division of Health Policy and Management


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