Strategic Initiatives

infographic illustrating the 6 initiative areas

Nothing about public health remains static. Although public health and hygiene has been a professional field for well more than a century, the areas practitioners are involved in change and expand as the needs of the public do as well.

Toward that end, Dr. Thomas LaVeist, dean of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, has identified six key strategic growth areas for public health. Dean LaVeist has gathered key faculty from across the school, knowledgeable partners across the university, and noted authorities from the non-profit, governmental, and corporate worlds to discuss these areas and consider what’s next and what’s needed from the public health community.

For some of these areas, the school already has extensive experience and background to commit; others represent growth areas within public health and the school particularly. Outcomes for these objectives cover both academics and research opportunities. All engender tremendous excitement from our faculty, students, and alumni, and will be a large draw for the next wave of innovative researchers and public health students.

Climate Change and Health

Led by Environmental Health Sciences Chair Melissa Gonzales, this initiative also has a special focus on the South, particularly the Gulf South stretching from Texas to Florida. This subtropical region has already experienced negative impacts from climate change that are expected to only grow worse. With a particular focus on the health impacts resulting from climate change, the school intends to establish a major center of research covering increasing vector-borne disease, air pollution, food and water security, disaster management, and more. This topic, however, is much larger than one discipline, and the school is already in collaboration with the School of Architecture, the School of Science and Engineering, and the ByWater Institute to develop cross-disciplinary educational programs designed to train the next generation of researchers and practitioners addressing climate change. A symposium and lecture series are already underway, with an inaugural report on climate change in the Gulf South to be unveiled on Earth Day 2025.

horizontal image of the Gulf Coast and wetlands

Health Policy Institute

This initiative will be led by alumnus Chip Kahn, a leading national voice in the area of health policy. Healthcare is and will continue to be one of the key issues in American discourse. Numerous policy issues confront lawmakers, practitioners, and the public at large, issues that need to be examined, explored, and assessed. A world-class institute focused on issues of health policy centrally located in the Gulf South would provide much needed research and advocacy on a wide range of issues impacting the healthcare field today and into the future.

Artificial Intelligence and Data Science

AI is a tool – and one the public health community can and should be using to more effectively and efficiently address barriers to good health. The professional and academic public health communities will need to be well-versed in this technology, and researchers with skills in this area are already planning ways to not only house AI and machine-learning expertise at Tulane SPHTM, but also provide a symposium and other methods to train current and future practitioners.

Woman using AI visualization

Cancer Prevention and Control

Louisiana is ranked 5th in the nation for all cancer mortality, with an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans representing some of the highest incidence rates in the world. Despite those devastating statistics, the state does not have a Comprehensive Cancer Center providing transdisciplinary research as a bridge between science and practice. The university already has a cancer center that has been led for many years by SPHTM epidemiologist Prescott Deininger who will now take on this strategic initiative for the school. The time is right with Tulane recently finalizing a partnership with LCMC Health to expand comprehensive and specialty care across Southeast Louisiana. Louisiana deserves innovative, world-class research and training to address the cancer crisis, and SPHTM is uniquely positioned to train the next generation of interdisciplinary cancer researchers to affect the health of our Gulf Coast communities.

Health Equity Research

As one of the leading national voices in health equity, Dean LaVeist is no stranger to this topic, and indeed the school has extensive initiatives already underway. These range from the Partners for Advancing Health Equity (P4HE) learning collaborative sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Society, Health, and Racial Equity Lab (SHARE) that approaches equity from a social-ecological lens to the Cost of Inequity, a report, and website that quantifies the economic burden of health inequity to the U.S.

Advancing health equity outcomes, particularly in the South is a key component of this initiative. The school will continue to strengthen long-standing ties to the community, with an interest in developing a report on the status of health equity in the South. Health equity considerations have already been baked into academics at SPHTM, but plans are underway to also add a specialization area in health equity to train more public health practitioners with in-depth knowledge on this topic.

Photo of Thomas Laveist in his office at the School of Public Health

Infectious Disease Epidemiology

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know enough. With very strong Departments of Epidemiology and also Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease, Tulane SPHTM is uniquely positioned to plan and prepare for the next infectious threat and better understand the ones still vexing us like malaria and dengue, HIV and syphilis, measles, and influenza. This initiative will expand research at the school while also providing students with a hands-on training ground, expanding the cadre of disease detectives to stem the spread of disease.