Pandemic Puts College of Population Health and Its Students in the Spotlight

It took a global health crisis for people to understand what population health is, Dr. David Nash says.
Dr. David Nash
Dr. David Nash, founding dean emeritus of the College of Population Health, says Jefferson helped to put the field on the map. Founded in 2009, the College now has 10 programs.

For years, Jefferson’s Dr. David Nash received blank stares and questions of “What is that?” when he mentioned the population health field.

“Sadly, over the last 20 months, I don’t have to explain it to anybody,” shares Dr. Nash, founding dean emeritus of the College of Population Health. “It took a global health crisis for people to understand what exactly we do.”

A “bright light” now shines on the field that addresses the large-scale social, economic and environmental issues that impact health outcomes of groups of people, says Dr. Nash, noting the prominent role Jefferson and its students play.

If you think of population health as the roof of the house, public health is the central pillar that supports it. Public health saved your life today. You just might not have realized it. –Dr. David Nash

Opening in fall 2009, the University’s College of Population Health was first in the country, he says. Today, there are some dozen such schools and colleges and 40-plus population health departments in medical schools.

Jefferson also had the first textbook on population health and publishes the only scholarly peer-reviewed journal on the subject. In addition, the 21st Population Health Colloquium, which Jefferson created, kicks off this month. (More on that below.)

“We really helped to put this field on the map,” says Dr. Nash, the Dr. Raymond C. and Doris N. Grandon Professor of Health Policy.

Ten programs exist within the College—including healthy policy, applied health economics and outcomes research, and healthcare quality and safety—with the master of public health being the largest degree program here, he says.

Jefferson’s upcoming Population Health Colloquium will bring together experts from across the spectrum.

“If you think of population health as the roof of the house, public health is the central pillar that supports it,” Dr. Nash explains. “Public health saved your life today. You just might not have realized it.”

Public health addresses pressing and emerging threats to health and well-being; prevents illness, disease and injury; and promotes and protects human health, he says. To achieve these goals, public health emphasizes social justice, supports human rights and respects the dignity of individuals and the integrity of communities.

With the pandemic, Jefferson’s population health faculty and staff have played a crucial, multifaceted role, he says. For example, interim dean Dr. Billy Oglesby runs point on campus testing and screening; faculty guide area community-based organizations on contact tracing and vaccine policies; and Dr. Nash serves as the chief health adviser to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In this position, he just led a webinar with 80 companies on how to safely hold a meeting in Philadelphia.

Dr. David Nash speaking
Population health faculty and staff have played a crucial role during the pandemic, Dr. David Nash says.

This is in addition to “training the leaders of tomorrow for the next pandemic,” says Dr. Nash, stressing massive job opportunities beyond the pandemic as well. “This is an incredible field. Look what it involves: all the science of behavioral economics, epidemiology, medicine, nursing, prevention and vaccine policies. We teach this in our College and the combined degree programs with Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

“We’re in the era of population health. No question about it.”

As such, Jefferson’s Population Health Colloquium on Oct. 12-14 will bring together experts from across the spectrum, including providers, payers, drug companies, IT companies and biotechnology firms, as well as Jefferson leadership to discuss current trends and advance the field. The social determinants of health will be among the many topics covered.

“Eighty percent of your health is due to non-medical things, like crime, poverty, education and opioid abuse,” Dr. Nash says. “In Philadelphia, one in four people live in poverty. That’s the principal determinant of health for our city. Philadelphia County is ranked dead last—67 out of 67 counties—in the state for the health of the population. What’s population health? It’s fixing that problem.”

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