Office of the President

May 12, 2017

Reflecting on the first year of the Population Health Initiative

Ana Mari Cauce

This month, we mark the one-year anniversary of our Population Health Initiative, an effort we launched with the goal of bringing our community together to improve health and well-being here and around the world. The impetus for that call remains as strong as ever, while our capacity to create change for the better is only growing.

One year in, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve accomplished so far and what lies ahead in this journey.

The initiative’s 30-member executive council, which first convened in July, has been making great progress, including codifying what we mean by “population health.” They defined it as identifying and understanding the three major influences on health and well-being — human health, environmental resilience, and social and economic equity – and utilizing all three in a comprehensive effort to improve health  The council includes representation from a wide range of disciplines across all of our campuses, as well as undergraduate and graduate students. Together they also led the development of a vision and mission for the initiative, providing a framework for our work.

The council also mapped the current landscape of population health work already underway across the UW (no small task) and developed a resource directory of faculty expertise and relevant centers, institutes and labs.

This was not a paper exercise.  For example, in the College of the Environment, we are working to increase communities’ resilience in the face of natural hazards and a changing climate.  In the School of Social Work, social workers get training in promoting healthy aging and geriatric care, skills we urgently need for an aging population.  UW Bothell has put forward a road map for integrating population health concepts into their curriculum.  Working across disciplines to identify and mitigate challenges and large-scale impacts on health and well-being is a key part of our work as a university, work that will be expanded and magnified through this initiative.

This work is supported by extraordinary and visionary philanthropy, including a transformative $210 million gift from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the construction of a population health building. This week, the Board of Regents voted to locate that facility near the heart of campus — at the corner of 15th Avenue and Stevens Way. Not only does this location demonstrate the centrality of this initiative to our University, but it also will facilitate the building’s mission of being a convening space for the full range of disciplines across the UW that are contributing to improving population health.

As we enter Year Two, the initiative will focus on activities within three bodies of work: creating the UW support structure, building capacity and competency, and focusing on solutions to key challenges. We will also form an independent external advisory board to provide guidance on the initiative’s work

I continue to hear from many of you that you are eager to be involved in this initiative – either through a project you may already be engaged in or as future collaborator. As we move forward, I encourage you to reach out to the executive council with your ideas and enthusiasm.  The excellence and creativity of our faculty, staff, and students is what has positioned us so well – indeed has given us the audacity – to lead this Population Health Initiative over the next 25 years.  I look forward to working with you as we take our next steps forward.