School Serves Our ‘Public’ Very Well

Monday, September 03, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 172

Kayla Larson, the head of the Public Health Student Association at the University of Memphis School of Public Health, got right to the heart of the discussion.

“If you’re going to be in public health, you need to be in the areas that need you most,” she said in this week’s cover story. “This area is where public health professionals need to be.”

The school of public health is an important moment in the city’s long medical tradition.

That tradition should be inseparable from public health issues and advances.

The issue in public health remains access not just for Memphians and those in the larger region. It is access by health care professionals already working and those in training here to a larger forum for their talents.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent roundtable here on higher education pointed out the talent pool for health care and medicine is at least national if not international. Several leaders of our health care corporations told Haslam they cast a wide net in search of those with abundant talent.

Some of that is what happens at any similar medical research undertaking in any major American city. Those with the talent search for the best opportunity to pursue their research. And that research has no home, really – no place of origin or discovery. We get that.

But we also know all too well that some of the search for that talent is because these companies and institutions cannot find enough of our own people with the skills and training. It’s not the ability to train someone to operate a specific machine or process or work just on a specific area. What we need and what we must have is the kind of critical thinking that has as its work what hasn’t been conceived yet, what hasn’t been thought of and what will be needed in the future.

What makes Memphis such a fertile laboratory for medical research and the application of that research is what makes the development of local leadership and researchers so important.

For those of us who are Memphis lifers, there is the familiar experience of being called a laboratory for various solutions. And those who have come here for that have served selflessly and helped our city immeasurably.

But when do we begin developing our own critical mass that remains for the long haul necessary to begin making serious inroads on these problems? Those solutions will almost certainly be applicable to other places. But those solutions have to begin with moving the needle on the reality of a city with significant long-standing health issues. There is so much potential in this place of so much poverty and the public health issues that follow it closely.

A school of public health at a university with a growing research mission is a great start in the conversion of our laboratory into a model.