New name for school puts population health in focus

24 Aug 2020
people blurred with data connections

UNSW Medicine’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine is now the School of Population Health to reflect a broader approach to population and global health.

UNSW Medicine’s new School of Population Health will lead population health research and education at UNSW.

The school will strengthen cross-disciplinary links with staff and students from the faculties of Engineering, Science, Law and the new faculty that encompasses Arts, Architecture & Design to enhance innovation in research and teaching of population health. 

With strong programs in health systems and close relationships with our local health districts, networks and the health precincts of UNSW, the school will be the leader in research and teaching in health services, management and leadership. In addition, it will drive the delivery of value-based care in Australia.

The School of Public Health and Community Medicine was well overdue for a name change. The terms ‘public health’ and ‘community medicine’ reflect 40-year-old trends in research. Community medicine was used in the ‘70s and ‘80s for what is now described as population health. At that time, community medicine described efforts to address the social determinants of health. This is now recognised as an essential part of modern-day population health and the term community medicine is no longer used in public or population health fields.

Dropping community medicine from the school’s name reflected a shift in vernacular, but Head of School Professor Rebecca Ivers explained the reasoning behind changing the school’s name from Public Health to Population Health.

“There isn’t much difference between the terms public and population health, and often the underlying concepts are used interchangeably. Public health reflects an approach that focuses on the health of populations, but for those in the community it is more synonymous with the public health system.”  

Public health can be defined as what society does to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. Public health works to protect and improve the health of communities through policy recommendations, health promotion and outreach, and research for disease detection and injury prevention.

“Population health, however, invokes the field of research that informs developments in the public health system. It is the framework through which we apply public health approaches. Population health seeks to characterise, explain and influence the levels and distributions of health, and health equity, within and across populations,” Prof. Ivers explained.

“In this sense it is more closely aligned with our approach to both teaching and research, and our plans for the future.

“We support a diverse group of academics, education and research interests. We have a large and growing focus on health systems research, including work conducted in partnership with health services and end-users, and the Master of Health leadership and management degree.

“This all fits comfortably under a School of Population Health.”

Learn more about the School of Population Health.