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Q & A with Dr. David Bansgberg, Dean OHSU-PSU School of Public Health
Q & A with Dr. David Bansgberg, Dean OHSU-PSU School of Public Health

In September, 2016, Dr. David Bangsberg, MD, MPH, became the founding dean of the new OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, a joint endeavor between Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University. Bangsberg was most recently Director of Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he was a professor.

You could work anywhere in the world, so how did the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health lure you back to Portland?

I was raised here in Oregon. When I graduated from Lincoln High School and left to attend college, I never imagined leaving forever. I thought I would go to college and maybe graduate school and then come back. But then job opportunities in New York, San Francisco, and eventually in rural Africa kept me away. 

I’ve always loved Portland and Oregon. My family is here. The prospect of leading a new school of public health in my hometown was very compelling. There’s a creative spirit and energy that I think is unique to Portland, which will be great to tap into as well.

What do you see as the particular strengths of the Portland region, in terms of the work you’re doing?

Portland and Oregon are very progressive, interested in health and well-being. At the same time, Oregon also has many significant health challenges, including substance abuse, mental health, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, to name a few. There are challenges related to access, education, and economic opportunity. Portland in particular has struggled with issues of homelessness. All of these are issues important to Portland, Oregon, and the US at large.

I’m very excited that Oregon has been a leader in health care reform and was out in front in terms of trying to create equitable and affordable access to health care with the Oregon health system. So there are fascinating opportunities to explore how policies that increase access to health care with a public health focus will lead to improved health outcomes while controlling cost.

Your past work has been global in scope. Will the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health focus primarily on this region?

A school of public health in Oregon should focus first and foremost on health needs and health disparities of Oregonians. The school is supported by the state, and the residents of Oregon should be its first priority. That said, in every university across the country, there is a new generation of young people who grew up in the Internet age who are aware of what global health disparities are and who have a real passion to make a difference. With my experience in global health, I can make connections and create opportunities for the students and the faculty.

What are your early goals as dean of the new program?

My first job with this new school is to help bring the faculties from the two universities together. I’d like to foster an environment in which the faculty feels that they can tap colleagues in other disciplines to create innovative approaches to public health. OHSU has expertise in biomedicine, biostatistics, and epidemiology; PSU complements that with health policy and community and urban health.

The second goal is to listen to the stakeholders in Oregon who represent marginalized populations, and who represent health care leadership in the state, whether it’s state, county, or local government officials, members of the business community, or the people themselves. We want to make sure we understand their needs and apply the talent of OHSU and PSU to address the public health priorities of Oregonians.

What sorts of students do you hope to attract to the School of Public Health, in terms of their academic backgrounds and goals? 

We want to attract bright, motivated, passionate students who are interested in working in public health and that want to make a difference in the world by reducing health disparities.

How will you combine the faculties of PSU and OHSU?

We look forward to creating new avenues for the faculties of the two schools to work together to develop research projects that cross the disciplines at each school, and also to develop new curricula and new educational opportunities for students. 

Bringing a community together requires informal opportunities for people to spend time together. We’re looking for ways for people to get to know the community created by the two combined universities, and to make friends and professional relationships and generate new ideas.

In Uganda, you supported efforts to address economic insecurities and help people generate steady incomes. Are you interested in continuing those sorts of ventures here, either on a local or global level?

I love being entrepreneurial. I look at health through a very broad lens: not only biological health, but also mental health, social health, and economic health. I don’t know what opportunities will reveal themselves in this new school. That will require me to get to know and understand the talent of the faculty and how that matches the needs of Oregon. But we’ll look forward to exploring solutions that have that same broad view and that impact physical, mental, social, and economic health.

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First, though, I would like to get to know my new faculty—where are the talents, and where are the passions? And how do we best align those talents and passions with the greatest public health needs of Oregon? I have a lot of faith and a lot of optimism that we’ll come up with really creative solutions, and I look forward to discovering those, in partnership with not only the faculty, but with the students, staff, and community as well.