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Schools of public health were established to develop leaders and scientists who could bring academic rigor to the discipline of "assuring conditions in which people can be healthy." Once the major challenges related to sanitation and clean water, vaccine-preventable diseases, and other communicable diseases were identified (although never fully solved!), public health as an academic discipline began to examine the larger issues of where and how we live, work, and play, and the influence these have on whether families, communities, and populations can live healthy lives.

The great challenges before us now are understanding the root causes — known as social determinants of health — that shape our capacity as individuals, families, communities, and populations to become and remain healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic unmasked the effects of these social determinants of health and their role in creating health inequities. We are just beginning to grasp how these determinants impact, and are impacted by, our environment, which in turn affects gene expression and individual susceptibilities to both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Connecting this understanding to the impacts of climate change on human health is a commitment the school is making through a new school-level faculty hiring initiative.

Our school engages with local leaders in Birmingham to address homicide as a public health crisis, supports community efforts to address the decades-long environmental injustices related to environmental contamination in north Birmingham, works with communities in the Black Belt of rural Alabama to understand the disparities in the development of hypertension, and develops novel methods of stemming the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public health leaders from our school have provided expert guidance to the University of Alabama System and UAB regarding COVID-19 related policies and procedures; we have been engaged in regular consultations with the Jefferson County Health Department in Birmingham, as well as with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH); and we have supported the work of ADPH through our school’s Case Investigation/Contact Tracing activities, the establishment of a Regional Center for Infection Prevention and Control, and our management of COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools across the state.

Opportunities abound for students to explore connections between public health and other academic disciplines across the UAB campus. We offer practical and meaningful internship experiences through partnerships with state and local governmental agencies, local businesses and industry, and a global network of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Students have been at the forefront of our COVID-19 activities, most notably becoming Contact Tracers – simultaneously learning public health and DOING public health! Students in the UAB School of Public Health have life-changing opportunities to BE SOMEBODY and MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Come join us!

Paul C. Erwin, MD, DrPH, Dean
Ryals Public Health Building (RPHB) 130

Dean's Office Staff
Strategic Plan
Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Office of Public Health Practice
Office of Research

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