Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School plan to study a potential partnership to create Virginia's first school of public health.
ODU issued a request for proposals this week seeking a consultant to conduct the study, funded by a $125,000 appropriation approved by the General Assembly in February.
ODU and EVMS have operated a joint master's degree program in public health since 1999. The study will include an assessment of that program and other health-related courses and programs offered by the two Norfolk schools that could be incorporated into the proposed new school.
The study will also assess the projected demand for graduates with degrees in public health, including the expected impact of changes dictated by the federal Affordable Care Act.
The field of public health focuses on protecting and improving the health of entire communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles and research on disease and injury prevention.
There are no schools of public health in Virginia. The nearest ones are at the University of North Carolina, George Washington University, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, West Virginia University and East Tennessee State University.
Creating a school would be a big leap beyond the existing joint master's degree program, leaders at ODU and EVMS said.
The degree program is focused on training public-health practitioners. Expanding it into a school would require adding a substantial research component, said Donald Combs, vice president and dean of the school of health professions at EVMS.
The research might address problems that are particularly important locally - such as obesity and diabetes - as well as the harm caused by smoking, maternal and child health, and poor access to health care in rural areas, said Combs and Shelley Mishoe, dean of health sciences at ODU.
"What is missing in Virginia is an academic institution that focuses on those sorts of issues, not only from the point of view of training, but really develops a very robust enterprise," Combs said. "We think the need for that in Virginia is substantial."
A school of public health could be an epicenter for a communitywide assault on pressing health problems, Mishoe said.
"It's clear that population-based approaches are needed because we spend so much as a country on health care, and our outcomes aren't adequate," she said. "We're not making enough headway."
Funding will be a key issue. Mishoe estimated that the proposed school would require about 35 faculty members.
Proceeding on a separate track, funded by a $200,000 state appropriation, is a study of a possible merger between EVMS and the College of William & Mary.
The two schools have adopted a go-slow approach to that idea, expressing concerns about financial resources, differences in rankings between the two schools, and the lack of a "compelling vision" for a merger.
"On reflection, both institutions realized that we needed to have our faculty come together and understand one another and identify some concrete collaborative opportunities," Combs said.
The result could be anything from a memorandum of understanding to an outright merger, he said.
Still another legislative proposal to study a potential ODU-EVMS merger stalled in a House of Delegates committee last year.
Bill Sizemore, 757-446-2276, email@example.com