UT Southwestern Medical Center announced a $100 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation to endow and support its new School of Public Health. This investment is the largest gift to a School of Public Health at a public university in the U.S. and matches the third largest gift supporting any School of Public Health.
The O’Donnell Foundation, established by visionary philanthropist Peter O’Donnell Jr. made this gift for its unprecedented potential to accelerate the momentum of the recently established School. In recognition of this gift, UT Southwestern has named the new school the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health. It is the first new school established at UT Southwestern in more than 50 years. It joins UT Southwestern’s Medical School, School of Health Professions, and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
“Peter and Edith O’Donnell understood the vital role of academic medicine in addressing the health challenges facing society,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern. “No one has been more generous in their support of UT Southwestern than the O’Donnells and their Foundation, funding many of the Medical Center’s most innovative and impactful initiatives over more than four decades.” In total, they have given in excess of $400 million to support UT Southwestern. The majority of the funds of this latest gift will create an endowment to provide stable support for the new school’s research and educational programs. The balance of the gift funds will be used to support recruitment of new faculty and the school’s programmatic initiatives.
“Peter and Edith O’Donnell cared deeply about UT Southwestern and making a difference in the greater Dallas community,” said William T. Solomon, President and CEO of the O’Donnell Foundation. “These two passions are inextricably linked in the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health. We are proud to share a gift that honors the O’Donnells’ immeasurable legacy and makes a lasting impact on UT Southwestern and the communities of North Texas.”
The new school was launched to both advance public health broadly through research and meet the need for an expanded expert public health workforce. It will leverage the research strengths and experience of UT Southwestern’s three existing schools as well as previous investments by UT Southwestern in public health research and interventions. The latter is exemplified by the long-standing Dallas Heart Study (now the Dallas Hearts and Minds Study) exploring variations in cardiovascular disease risk among diverse populations, research to improve cancer screening in our large health systems – especially among the underserved – and recent studies on the differential impact of COVID-19 across communities. The new school will also benefit from alignment with the Medical Center’s own 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.
Since formation of the new school was approved by the UT System Board of Regents in 2021, the state of Texas in the 87th regular session of the Texas State Legislature committed $10 million in startup funds. Plans for the new school have advanced under the guidance of Interim Dean Celette Sugg Skinner, Ph.D., and an executive steering committee. A national search for the school’s inaugural permanent Dean is planned for this year. The school will enroll its first students for the Master of Public Health degree in the fall of 2023, followed by the launch of its doctoral degree programs the following year.
The initial faculty of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health will comprise members of the Department of Population and Data Sciences of the Medical School, as well as several other departments across all UT Southwestern schools. The faculty will be substantially expanded by recruitment of leading senior and early career public health scholars from across the country and beyond, supported by funds from the O’Donnell Foundation, as well as institutional resources and additional philanthropic gifts.
Cross-cutting programs of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health will be anchored on existing strengths at UT Southwestern. These include data science, epidemiology, implementation science, and health system/population health research. These programs will address some of society’s most challenging problems that impact communities in North Texas and worldwide. Areas of concentrations within these programs will 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. The Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health will advance the well-being of communities by translating scientific discoveries into public health solutions and assuring the capacity to respond to future public health emergencies.
“The science of public health seeks to improve the quality of life for whole communities. That goal resonates with the core mission of UT Southwestern – promoting health and a healthy society that enables individuals to achieve their full potential,” said Dr. Podolsky. “A better understanding of the barriers to health provides promise for equitable and accessible care for all in North Texas, one of the most populous and diverse regions of the country.”
Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.
Dr. Skinner holds the Parkland Community Medicine Professorship.
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 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,800 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 117,000 inpatients, more than 360,000 emergency room patients, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.