$100 million gift launches the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at UT Southwestern Medical Center
Saad B. Omer, M.B.B.S, M.P.H., Ph.D., FIDSA, has been appointed inaugural Dean of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
The O’Donnell School of Public Health, which will admit its inaugural class in 2023, launched with a transformative $100 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation, the largest gift to a School of Public Health at a public university in the U.S. and matching the third-largest gift supporting any School of Public Health.
“Dr. Omer’s accomplishments as a public health scholar and advocate have positively impacted communities across the world and provide an outstanding foundation for him to serve as the inaugural Dean of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern, who holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery Jr., M.D., Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration and Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. “Dr. Omer will ensure that we fully achieve our vision for the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health to ultimately improve the health of communities near and far by advancing the science of public health and preparing a well-trained workforce of public health professionals.”
After formation of the new school was approved by the UT System Board of Regents in 2021, the Texas Legislature committed $10 million in startup funds. The following year, the O’Donnell Foundation, established by the late visionary philanthropist Peter O’Donnell Jr., and his late wife, Edith, provided the transformational $100 million gift to accelerate the momentum of the newly established school.
“I look forward to joining the collaborative atmosphere at UT Southwestern and to bringing together the robust computational, scientific, and clinical expertise to apply to the important challenges faced in public health today,” said Dr. Omer, who was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2022. “The sturdy foundation for the school created by the O’Donnell Foundation’s generous investment, the strong support of the state, and the eagerness of the UT Southwestern community for our mission offers an exciting environment to recruit the best and brightest faculty and students as we generate fresh avenues for research to support the welfare of diverse communities here and throughout the world.”
Dr. Omer, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., FIDSA, will hold the Lyda Hill Deanship of the School of Public Health at UT Southwestern. He begins his duties on June 1.
“On a personal level, Dr. Omer encompasses the vitality and compassion that are fundamental to advancing the well-being of communities and meeting the need for an expanded expert public health workforce that will broaden our capacity to respond to current and future public health challenges,” said W. P. Andrew Lee, M.D., Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean, UT Southwestern Medical School, who holds the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.
About Saad B. Omer, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Ph.D.
Dr. Omer has conducted studies in the United States, Guatemala, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Australia. His research involves:
Epidemiology of respiratory viruses including influenza, RSV, and – more recently – SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19)
Clinical trials to estimate efficacy of maternal and/or infant influenza, pertussis, polio, measles, and pneumococcal vaccines
Trials to evaluate drug regimens to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV
Interventions to increase immunization coverage and acceptance
Public health preparedness strategies to effectively respond to large emerging and reemerging infectious disease outbreaks.
A prolific and impactful researcher, he has published more than 430 peer-reviewed papers that have been cumulatively cited more than 150,000 times. Dr Omer’s published work, which includes the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, Lancet, Cell, Science, and Nature, is consistently cited for policy recommendations and has informed legislative policy and clinical practice in many countries.
He has served on advisory panels including the U.S. National Vaccine Advisory Committee, Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria-Vaccine Innovation Working Group, several high-level World Health Organization advisory committees, multiple National Academy of Medicine expert panels, the boards of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and as an academic affiliate of the Office of Evaluation Sciences – formerly known as the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. He has received multiple awards, including the Maurice Hilleman Award by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases for his work on the impact of maternal influenza immunization on respiratory illness in infants younger than 6 months for whom there is no vaccine.
Dr. Omer currently serves as inaugural Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, Associate Dean for Global Health Research with the Yale School of Medicine, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases, Professor of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases with the Yale School of Public Health, and Adjunct Professor with the Yale School of Nursing.
The first new school established at UT Southwestern in more than 50 years, the O’Donnell School of Public Health joins UT Southwestern’s Medical School, School of Health Professions, and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which have a combined full-time faculty of more than 2,900. The O’Donnell School of Public Health is currently recruiting senior and early career public health scholars and accepting applications for its inaugural class of students in fall of 2023. The O’Donnell School of Public Health will initially offer a Master of Public Health degree in the fall of 2023, followed by launch of its doctoral degree programs the following year.
Researchers with the school are able to leverage the institution’s historical research strengths, which includes four active Nobel laureates, 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, 12 basic science departments, 21 clinical departments encompassing about 80 specialties, and 20 endowed centers.
The new school also benefits from alignment with the Medical Center’s growing university health system and an extensive network of collaborative partnerships with other health systems, including Parkland Health, Children’s Health, Texas Health Resources, and the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as other institutions, including those across the University of Texas System.
The O’Donnell School of Public Health is located within the 13-county Dallas-Fort Worth area that has a census of 7.8 million and is the fastest-growing region in the country, with a projected population of 9.3 million by 2030, which includes a diverse, majority-minority population (41% Hispanic, 16% African American).
The faculty of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health, initially composed of members of the Department of Population and Data Sciences of the Medical School, encompasses programs from data science, epidemiology, implementation science, and health system/population health research. Areas of concentrations within these programs include a focus on the burden of chronic diseases (such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and heart disease), disease prevention, socioeconomic determinants of health and disparities in health outcomes and health equity, global health and emerging infections, and environmental change impact on health.
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee more than 4 million outpatient visits a year.
Peter O’Donnell was born and raised in Highland Park, near Dallas and studied mathematics at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, before earning a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He first worked in banking and real estate before achieving significant success in the securities industry. Edith Jones was born in Abilene, Texas and graduated from The Hockaday School in Dallas before attaining a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from The University of Texas at Austin. The two met in 1948 and were married in 1952, subsequently going on to raise three daughters.
Having established the O’Donnell Foundation in 1957, the couple devoted themselves to furthering causes in their city, state and, indeed of the nation, that they were deeply passionate about. In the fields of public and higher education, Mr. O’Donnell founded the Advanced Placement Incentive Program, which dramatically increased the number of high school students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds passing college-level exams in math, science, and English.
This served as the model for programs in Texas and across the nation. In addition, he established Laying the Foundation, a teacher-training organization for grades six through 12 with the goal of better preparing students to enter the Advanced Placement pipeline. Mr. O’Donnell was also instrumental in creating the National Math + Science Initiative, which has enhanced math and science education programs for high school students.
The O’Donnell’s wider support of higher education at The University of Texas was unparalleled and university chairmanships in Computing Systems, Science and Engineering were established in their honor.