Schools of Public Health: Essential Infrastructure of a Responsible Society and a 21st-Century Health System

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—better known as the stimulus package—that President Barack Obama signed into law in February 2009 included a historic investment in the national infrastructure. The Act devoted $150 billion to strengthening systems that support the country's social and economic viability, such as public transportation, roads, bridges, dams, ports, waterworks, and broadband access.1 In this article, we argue that schools of public health (SPHs) are also essential to the nation's health, security, and well-being. SPHs collectively serve as a platform for creating the knowledge needed to prevent disease and disability and for translating that knowledge into approaches that protect the health of all of us. At the same time, SPHs are responsible for educating the public health leaders of the future.We begin by demonstrating that public health is an essential element of a responsible society. We then describe the critical roles the nation's 40 accredited SPHs play in protecting and improving the public's health. We contend that these SPHs are uniquely positioned to provide leadership in the design and implementation of a 21st-century health system, one with a broad and holistic view of health and focused centrally on prevention rather than post-event acute and episodic care. Finally, we argue that the ability of SPHs to fulfill their roles needs to be strengthened through mechanisms for core financial support. Because the current funding system for SPHs is piecemeal and largely reactive, we call on the federal government to provide significant and sustained support for this work through a dedicated funding stream.

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