Building on a Legacy
Exciting opportunities lie ahead as UT Southwestern Medical Center embarks on a strategic plan to build a new and needed School of Public Health. This is the first School created by UT Southwestern in more than 50 years, building on research strengths and experience of UT Southwestern’s three existing schools as well as previous investments by UT Southwestern in the future of public health research and interventions.
In early 2022, UT Southwestern announced a transformative $100 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation to endow and support this new school. This was the largest gift to a School of Public Health at a public university in the U.S. and matches the third largest gift supporting any School of Public Health.
The O’Donnell Foundation, established by visionary philanthropist Peter O’Donnell Jr., who died last year, and his late wife, Edith, made this gift for its unprecedented potential to accelerate the momentum of the recently established School. In recognition of this gift, UT Southwestern has named the new school the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health.
The Need for Resources
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, significant public health challenges existed throughout our region and across the nation. High rates of preventable chronic illness, obesity and heart disease; disparities in access to care; and the impact of socioeconomic determinants on health are but a few of the barriers faced by far too many in our society.
From a regional perspective, the DFW Metroplex is the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area, and we are challenged to keep pace in addressing the health challenges we face.
“The Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health will be dedicated to producing a new generation of public health leaders skilled in data sciences, epidemiology, health policy, health care delivery research, implementation science, and other disciplines,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “The new school will build upon our strengths in basic and clinical sciences, and the expertise we have developed in fields such as population and data sciences, bioinformatics, and computational biology.”
Builders and Innovators
Just as the O’Donnells saw a need and took action, many community leaders have answered the call to support public health in our region.
Richard Hoffman, M.D., a Southwestern Medical Foundation Trustee and UTSW alumnus with an extensive background in public health, including a role at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), appreciates the profound and permanent impact created by public health programs when they are sustainably funded and supported.
Dr. Hoffman has a long history of giving back to the institutions that helped shape his career in public health. He established an endowed fund to teach courses in epidemiology to undergraduate students at Stanford University, where he also received his undergraduate education. Similarly, he created an endowed scholarship fund for students at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as a gesture of gratitude for the scholarship he received while studying there. Dr. Hoffman also started an endowed fund for scholarships at the Colorado School of Public Health, where he served as a faculty member.
The thing about public health is, when it’s doing its job best, you don’t notice it.Dr. Richard Hoffman
Now, Dr. Hoffman is investing in the new O’Donnell School of Public Health at UT Southwestern. “I wanted to fund students because we want students who are very diverse to be the leaders of public health in the future,” explained Dr. Hoffman. “Rather than addressing a gift towards a particular disease, I wanted to help students just as I had been helped when I was starting my career. I have confidence that the Medical Center can produce outstanding, quality graduates who go on to serve in their community.”
In addition to his recent investment in the O’Donnell School of Public Health, Dr. Hoffman and his mother established The Hoffman Family Center in Genetics and Epidemiology at UT Southwestern. The Center has provided significant support to the Dallas Heart Study, which has made tremendous progress in understanding DNA-based epidemiology as well as the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Lyda Hill, a Southwestern Medical Foundation Honorary Trustee, renowned philanthropist, and community leader, has invested in public health and life sciences initiatives for many years. Ms. Hill has now also generously funded the Lyda Hill Deanship of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at UT Southwestern.
“Creating better health care starts with investing in the right people,” said Ms. Hill. “Never underestimate the power of the right people being in the right places. UT Southwestern is already a leader in medical innovation, and with this new Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health, our region will continue to thrive.”
Creating better health care starts with investing in the right people.Lyda Hill
The Future of Biotech in Dallas-Fort Worth
In addition to this gift, Ms. Hill has been leading the way in bringing science and discovery to the forefront as a way to solve intractable issues. Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ exciting project, Pegasus Park is positioning North Texas as a premier location for biomedical innovation. The 23-acre, mixed-use office campus is designed to bolster local biotech, social impact, and biomedical innovation.
“It is truly inspiring to see leaders who have invested for many years in bettering the health of the public step forward so quickly and so generously to support UT Southwestern’s new School of Public Health,” said Kathleen M. Gibson, President & CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “Lyda Hill and Richard Hoffman are remarkable and insightful leaders who understand that communities are built and made better by those who see critical needs and match vision with the right solutions. Both of them do this time and again, and it serves as a beacon to others who are encouraged by both their humanity and strategic vision.”
The Value of Quality Education
Best-in-class public health begins with excellent teaching and excellent students. Faculty leaders are instilling excellence in each facet of medical training at UT Southwestern. James “Brad” Cutrell, M.D., is an expert epidemiologist at UT Southwestern and is also a winner of Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Ho Din Award.
Excellence in Medical Education
In 1943, at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Medical College, The Ho Din Award was instituted to signify the ideals and aspirations on which the school would be built. It continues to be the highest honor bestowed on a UT Southwestern medical student today.
Pictured: 2007 Ho Din Award winner Brad Cutrell, M.D. (left), and 2022 Ho Din Award winner Cayenne Price, M.D.2022 Ho Din Award Winner
“Much of medicine is focused on treating the individual patient in front of us and taking care of people who have illness or disease,” said Dr. Cutrell. “Public health is the perfect complement to focusing on the community’s needs and focusing on disease prevention. That’s why I’m so excited that UT Southwestern is going to be adding the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health to round out the medical education and what we can provide both for our students and our trainees here, but also for the community.”
Dr. Cutrell recognizes the importance of shaping the next generation of health care leaders through thoughtful training and preparation. From his perspective, the O’Donnell School of Public Health represents the next phase of making our region a global leader in health care.
UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell School of Public Health expects to welcome its first class of Master of Public Health students in the fall of 2023, followed by the first cohort of Ph.D. students in the fall of 2024. The school will partner with multiple community organizations across Dallas-Fort Worth, including regional health systems and universities, Parkland Health & Hospital System, Children’s Health, and UT Dallas.
“The thing about public health is, when it’s doing its job best, you don’t notice it,” said Dr. Hoffman. “Public health departments are essential to the well-being of a community—they provide immunizations, preventive health services, and information to leaders. They protect our food, water, and air, and stop outbreaks of disease. Educating future public health workers is a worthy cause.”
With the new O’Donnell School of Public Health, UTSW will develop professionals to expand research-intensive public health initiatives, which will be crucial to implementing programs on a large scale across systems, ultimately benefitting the citizens of Dallas, the United States, and the world in addressing health needs we face both now and in the future.