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UAB ranked first in U.S., seventh in the world by Times Higher Education for community outreach efforts around health and well-being

  • April 22, 2020
Impacting the health and well-being of a community is a cornerstone of UAB’s strategic plan and has been recognized globally by Times Higher Education.
Written by: Alicia Rohan and Karen Templeton

 NEWS STREAM copy1The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2020 highlights the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s impact on society to build healthier communities, where the institution ranked first in the United States, seventh in the world for achieving good health and well-being community outreach under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Since our inception 51 years ago, UAB has focused on advancing health research into practical uses within our city, state, nation and beyond,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “We started working in our community and have expanded outward to have a global impact on the health and well-being of society. Our impact continues to grow tremendously through research that guides community partnerships and educating the next generation, making us a leader in health and well-being.”

According to Times Higher Education, the Impact Rankings 2020 are a set of metrics designed for research-intensive global universities and are dominated by indicators of how research excellence is being utilized in communities. UAB delivers research that guides how community outreach is aimed to build healthier communities. The research helps guide faculty and students as they identify opportunities to build healthier communities through collaboration.  

The new ranking looks at an institution’s performance in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. UAB submitted data for two goals, Good Health and Wellbeing and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. The metrics for Good Health and Wellbeing, where UAB ranked seventh out of 620 institutions, evaluated the university based on the number of graduates in health-related fields and its health impact on local, national and global communities. The metrics for Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure looked at the number of spin-offs and industry income that impact economies, ranking UAB at 63rd out of 494 institutions globally.

The Impact Rankings explore the impact that a university can make, specifically by looking at themes of sustainability and health improvement. They provide a showcase for the work being delivered by universities in communities and are an opportunity to shine a light on institutional activities and efforts not covered in other rankings.

Forging the Future, UAB’s strategic plan, provides a blueprint that lays out the strategies and goals of the institution around four pillars:

  • Education
  • Research, innovation and economic development
  • Community engagement
  • Patient care

Making an impact today 

UAB’s strategic plan, Forging the Future, focuses on advancing community engagement and the health of our city, state and nation. Both individual schools and the university as a whole deliver outreach programs in the local community to improve and promote health and well-being.  

“Being in Birmingham is an asset,” said UAB Provost Pam Benoit. “UAB faculty, staff and students have built valuable collaborations with community organizations to enable better understanding of local and global issues, as well as concerns beyond UAB classrooms. The relationships built by our faculty, staff and students with the community are mutually beneficial, providing high-value research and service opportunities.”

The inaugural grand challenge, Live HealthSmart Alabama, aims to dramatically improve the health of all Alabamians by elevating the state out of the bottom 10 in national health ratings by 2030. Mona Fouad, Ph.D., principal investigator of Live HealthSmart and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, is leading the collaborative efforts to expand proven innovations to change policies, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.  

In the past year, UAB partnered with the City of Birmingham to create a smoke-free Health District on Birmingham’s Southside. Smoking is now prohibited on public property within the Health District — including city sidewalks — and a website has been launched to help smokers and non-smokers navigate the new law.

“UAB recently launched Live HealthSmart Alabama to significantly improve the health of Alabamians,” Watts said. “This Health District is one of the many initiatives we will advance through our unique ability to make our state healthier through our focus on education, research, innovation and economic development, patient care, and community service.”  

UAB’s mission is to serve students, patients, the community, and the global need for discovery, knowledge dissemination, education, creativity and the application of groundbreaking solutions. We are a leader among comprehensive public urban research universities with academic medical centers.

Building blocks to better health and well-being

In a little more than five decades, UAB has transformed from its modest beginnings as an extension center into a doctoral research university and academic medical center. The remarkable growth in size, quality, reputation and impact stems from the same vision that led UAB’s founders: To educate, advance discovery, care for the sick, respond to the needs of our community and establish Alabama as a progressive economic center that can change the world.

“UAB has been improving the health and well-being of people across the state of Alabama and around the world,” said Suzanne Austin, Ph.D., senior vice provost for Student and Faculty Success at UAB. “From our Sparkman Center for Global Health to the Gorgas Course on Tropical Medicine in the School of Medicine and many other initiatives, the impact of UAB on improving human health is undeniable. It is very gratifying to garner this latest global recognition of the excellent work of the students, faculty and staff of this great institution.”

In 1973, UAB opened the nation’s first public diabetes hospital — and the first linked with an academic medical center. Today, physicians on the front lines of the diabetes epidemic have an exciting new option to help their patients, thanks to breakthrough research that enables innovative care from UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center.

The Sparkman Center for Global Health was established in 1979 with a congressional appropriation through the United States Agency for International Development to UAB. The vision was, and continues to be, alleviation of health problems in less developed countries by increasing public health capacity. This vision reflects the global nature of population-level health issues, the impact of health on human development and the need for collaboration in resolving major health issues of our time.

The Sparkman Center contributes to solutions of health problems in developing countries through undergraduate and graduate-level public health education, research and training programs. These programs are organized collaboratively with academic institutions, international agencies and health ministries within the host country. Additionally, the center works to enhance the capacity of the UAB community to engage, prepare and support current and future health professionals in a global health agenda. For example, the Sparkman Center works in Zambia along with their Ministry of Health, universities, training institutions, and local and international NGOs. This collaboration helps provide technology infrastructure upgrades to enhancing teaching and training of health care workers in the country.

UAB’s School of Nursing has been designated a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center by the WHODetail of Hill Student Center fin and UAB signage with blue sky in the background, April 2020.UAB focuses on advancing community engagement and the health of our city, state and nation. Photography: Steve Wood. This designation was made based on the school’s sustained involvement and interest in developing the global nursing workforce. Through this center, the school works on a variety of initiatives including enhancing nursing and midwifery faculty capacity in teaching, research and mentoring in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The School of Dentistry pioneered “four-handed dentistry” — pairing a dentist with an assistant or hygienist to make treatments more efficient and effective. The technique is now standard practice worldwide, but it started in Alabama. Today the school continues searching for useful solutions as the administrative hub for the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, which engages more than 6,500 community dentists and hygienists in studies that can make an immediate impact in their clinics and communities. Additionally, the School of Dentistry has affiliation agreements with six schools in other countries to provide collaboration in education. The school has an active student exchange/visiting program with Japan and another with France, to assist in providing dental care to children and adults from developing countries. 

“We will continue to strive for excellence in improving the health and well-being of society through research-based community outreach,” Watts said. “These rankings showcase not only what we have done as an institution, but what we are capable of in the future.”

For more information about the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, click here