The Department of Population Health Sciences in the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) at Augusta University was established in 2017 to strengthen the institution’s impact on the health of all Georgians. It was shaped by consolidating two closely affiliated MCG units with synergy, common passion and a long history of collaboration - the Georgia Prevention Institute and the Department of Biostatistics & Epidemiology.
The Georgia Prevention Institute (GPI) was founded in 1981 by two pioneers, Dr. William
Strong, a Pediatric Cardiologist, and Dr. Maurice Levy, an educator. Their goal was
to create an infrastructure to fill the void in education and research in health promotion
and disease prevention across the lifespan. Drs. Strong and Levy served as the founding
director and associate director of the institute. The GPI had a very humble beginning,
building up from the grass roots. Dr. Frank Treiber was recruited as the first full-time
faculty member of the GPI, and succeeded Dr. Strong as its director in 1999. Drs.
Strong, Levy and Treiber received the institute's first grant from the National Institutes
of Health in 1985 to study the relationship of childhood diet and exercise to future
heart disease. Dr. Gregory Harshfield, who joined the GPI in 1997, has been serving
as its director since 2005.
The breadth of research at the GPI has grown to include, among other areas, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, fitness, kidney diseases and lung diseases. It has received over 100 million dollars in grant funding from NIH, AHA and other extramural agencies, including the longest active program project grant on campus that focusses on stress-related mechanisms of hypertension risk. Other funded research programs include minority health, nutrition, stress and substance abuse, to name a few. Over the years, GPI has developed strong ties with the community and with the local and State public health leadership.
The evolution of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology dates back to 1986, with the inception of the Office of Research Computing and Statistics under the directorship of Dr. William Thompson. Its primary mission was to provide research and educational support on campus. In 1992, the computing support merged with the Division of Information Technology, and the office was renamed the Office of Biostatistics. Dr. Thompson, who also served as the associate director of GPI, continued as director of the Office of Biostatistics until his retirement in 2000. Dr. Mark Litaker served as the interim director till Dr. David Smith was hired as the director in 2002.
In 2004, as part of the strategic initiative and academic mission of the institution, the Office of Biostatistics was transformed to a full-fledged academic department, with the added foci on graduate training programs and methodological research in biostatistics. Dr. James Dias, as the interim chair, spearheaded the development of an MS program in Biostatistics. The Department was initially housed in the School of Graduate Studies, in recognition by the institution of the broad and vital role of biostatistics in multidisciplinary and translational research. In 2005, Dr. Varghese George was recruited as the inaugural chair of the department, at which time it had four faculty members, three of whom have since retired.
The year 2006 marked the first incoming class of the MS students. The development of the Ph.D. program in Biostatistics culminated in the first incoming class of 2008. That same year, as part of the initiative in developing translational research infrastructure on campus, the department also started a certificate and a master’s program in Clinical and Translational Science, specifically designed for junior faculty, fellows and residents within the institution. By the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 8 postdoctoral, 12 doctoral, 17 master’s, 9 MCTS and 2 CCTS trainees graduated from the department.
The year 2012 was an eventful one in the history of our institution. Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly, the Medical College of Georgia) and Augusta State University consolidated to become the Georgia Regents University, which was later renamed Augusta University. During the merger, the College of Medicine was also renamed the Medical College of Georgia. At the same time, the Department of Biostatistics moved from the Graduate School to MCG, and renamed the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, in recognition of the need to build a strong epidemiology presence on campus.
The idea of consolidating the GPI and the Department of Biostatistics & Epidemiology to form a department with public/population health underpinning has been a relentless pursuit of Drs. George and Harshfield, who envisioned the benefits and the opportunities it could lend to advance population health research for improving the health of all. Of course, Dr. David Hess, the Dean of MCG, took this initiative as one of his top priorities, and the Department of Population Health Sciences became a reality.