Students are helping Georgia health departments apply to become nationally accredited. Graduates are researching whether flu shots reduce school absenteeism. Biostatisticians, who come from around the world to study here, are employed in the pharmaceutical industry, proving the effectiveness of new drugs.
What they have in common is the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health. The college recently marked its official 10th anniversary as a division of Georgia Southern University.
One way the college is working to improve public health services in Georgia is by helping the state’s health districts apply for voluntary accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board, a new, national nonprofit.
“Hospitals are accredited. Universities are accredited. Schools are accredited, and the leadership in public health saw that there was no way to regulate or to ensure that public health services were being delivered in a quality manner, and this board was formed,” said Angie Peden, the director of the college’s Office of Public Health Practice.
So far, there are only 22 accredited health departments in the United States. None of Georgia’s 18 public health districts is accredited yet.
But under an effort coordinated by the Georgia Public Health Practice-Based Research Network, GSU public health students and faculty have performed accreditation readiness assessments of nine of the districts, Peden reported. With funding from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation, the college is providing direct technical assistant to two districts as they apply.
Peden received her Master of Public Health degree, or MPH, from the college in 2008.
Sara Plaspohl graduated in May 2010 as the first recipient of the college’s Doctor of Public Health degree. Now an Armstrong Atlantic State University assistant professor and coordinator of Armstrong’s MPH program, Dr. Plaspohl is working with another Jiann-Ping Hsu doctoral grad, Coastal Health District clinical supervisor Dr. Betty Dixon, on a multiyear study relating flu shots to attendance in Effingham County’s elementary schools.
The Georgia Public Health Association’s 2013 Barfield Award for community-based research went to their research team.
“What we’ve found so far is there does seem to be a relationship between the two,” Plaspohl said. “So if students are vaccinated, they seem to miss less days of school.”
Meanwhile, graduates of the college’s biostatistics program do statistical analysis for drug companies, both in basic research and in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of new medications.
Dr. Karl Peace, GSU biostatistics professor, founder of its Center for Biostatistics and endower of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, stays in contact with numerous biostatistics graduates. One is working at Allergan, the company that makes Botox and Restasis; another works for Biogen Idec, which has developed treatments for multiple sclerosis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Two are with Abbott Laboratories, whose portfolio includes Humira for arthritis and Norvir, a treatment for HIV. Another works with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
With about 18 students currently seeking master’s or doctoral degrees, biostatistics is a small department. But it is also the college’s most diverse and international.
“It’s quite an interesting mix,” Peace said.
The group of alumni he described includes at least three originally from India, one from the Philippines and two from China. Among them there are about as many women as men.
Peace’s desire to see a biostatistics program at Georgia Southern was the impetus to create the college. His and his late wife’s success as biostatisticians provided resources.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern College and a master’s from Clemson University, Peace first taught at Georgia Southern from 1964 to 1968. He taught at three other colleges and earned his doctorate in biostatistics from the Medical College of Virginia.
In his second career, Peace did biostatistics research and management, holding senior positions at Burroughs-Wellcome, SmithKline and French Labs, G.D. Searle and Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis.
Dr. Jiann-Ping Hsu, originally from mainland China, received her education in Taiwan and the United States, earning a doctorate in biostatistics from the University of California at Berkeley.
She and Peace worked together at two different companies before he founded Biopharmaceutical Research Consultants Inc. in the late 1980s. He hired Hsu as a vice president in 1993, the year they were married. She was company president from 1996.
Invited to speak to the GSU College of Science and Technology graduating class in 1998, Peace learned there was no biostatistics degree program, nor any school or college of public health, in the University System of Georgia. But Dr. Charles Hardy, then in the GSU College of Health and Professional Studies, was chairing efforts to establish public health master’s degrees in community health education and health administration at Georgia Southern. After working with Hardy to add an MPH program in biostatistics, Peace returned in fall 2000 to help grow the program and establish the Center for Biostatistics.
In February 2001, Hsu was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2003, after realizing that her condition was terminal, Peace inquired about endowing a school at GSU in her honor. The Board of Regents of the University System voted on Jan. 14, 2004, to establish the Jiann-Ping Hsu School of Public Health. Hsu died three weeks later.
For Peace, the school’s founding as Hsu’s namesake remains one highlight of its history, “but even more so was the fact that she lived long enough to know of its existence,” he said.
The school was upgraded to a college, with Hardy as its first dean, on Jan. 1, 2006.
Georgia Southern’s College of Public Health offers master’s degree programs in epidemiology, biostatistics, behavioral science, environmental health and health administration. It awards doctorates in biostatistics, behavioral science and public health leadership.
Long after awarding its first advanced degrees, the college received its first undergraduate students in August 2013. Now the college has about 230 graduate students and 200 undergrads, according to Dr. Greg Evans, its dean since April 2012. He was interviewed at the 10th anniversary reception in January.
“Almost all of the public health programs in the country — there are, I think, now 51 accredited colleges of public health in the United States — started out as graduate programs, and it’s only been within the last, oh, seven or eight years that we have brought undergraduates into the public health programs,” Evans explained.
The Council on Education for Public Health lists the 51 fully accredited colleges and schools on its website. The Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health achieved its accreditation in July 2011.
Evans noted that the college now offers online versions of all its core courses. It is in the process, he said, of converting the Doctor of Public Health Leadership into a distance-learning program so it can serve working professionals across the state.
Peace, 72, continues to teach two courses each semester and is one of Georgia Southern’s most published faculty members, author or coauthor of 11 books and more than 150 articles. The 14 endowments he has established at GSU have provided financial support to more than 250 students.
“I’m pleased with the growth of the college in terms of the number of faculty, in terms of the number of students, in terms of the performance of many of our graduates,” Peace said. “I personally think that we always could do more, and we certainly have a lot more to do.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.