An internationally renowned preventative cardiologist, scientist, researcher and clinical epidemiologist will head up the new University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio.
Dr. Vasan S. Ramachandran will become the first dean of the new school, a partnership between UT Health San Antonio and UTSA. It will be the third public health school in the UT System, and will begin accepting students in 2024 for advanced graduate degrees, and doctoral students in 2025.
“What the school of public health will address are the major public health challenges in the region we know,” said Ramachandran in an interview Tuesday.
Ramachandran said age-specific patterns of morbidity and mortality exist in San Antonio. Common causes of death in younger people include accidents, mental health disorders, homicide and suicide. During middle age, causes of death include diabetes and excess weight, and in later life, heart disease and stroke.
“Some of our prevention methods and public health measures would be studying, in a granular way, the burden of these diseases” on the residents of South Texas, he said. “Not based on just statistics, but understanding what are the upstream factors that contribute to these patterns.”
The search for the school’s inaugural dean began early this year after the UT System’s Board of Regents authorized the development of the new public health in November 2021. Ramachandran will step into his new role on Sept. 1.
With his new job in San Antonio, Ramachandran will be joining his wife, Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a neurologist and director of the Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s disease and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.
Ramachandran’s work in public health began in 1996 after a heart disease epidemic swept his home country of India. In an effort to address the crisis, he founded India’s first school of public health.
Since 2014, Ramachandran has served as a public health researcher at Boston University and principal investigator of the Framingham Heart Study, the oldest running cohort study in the country that works to identify common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease.
He is also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health. In addition, Ramachandran is chief of the Section of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology’s Department of Medicine and is the Jay and Louise Coffman Professor of Vascular Biology.
With more than 1,060 publications to his name, Ramachandran is a highly respected physician-scientist and a clinical epidemiologist whose research has focused on heart failure, blood pressure and cardiac remodeling.
The search for a founding dean usually takes time, said Jennifer Potter, vice president for research at UT Health San Antonio, who co-chaired the search advisory committee.
The process was rigorous and inclusive, she said, but moved faster than anticipated. The search committee, which included faculty from UTSA and UT Health San Antonio, wanted a candidate with combined talents and a rigorous academic background — as well as a humanist who appreciates the uniqueness of San Antonio, said Potter.
“We wanted somebody who really was going to be able to pay attention to what was going on in our city, to understand and appreciate its strengths, as well as the challenges and opportunities here, and why it’s so important for us to have a public health school of our own,” said Potter.
One of Ramachandran’s many qualifications, she said, was his success conducting a number of research projects, including the one that studies why people in the southern United States live shorter and less healthy lives.
Potter said Ramachandran was also a compelling candidate because of his strong sense of context and appreciation for the local community, his character, accomplishments, leadership and compassion.
“He had all of those skills,” she said. “That’s not something that’s that easy to find. We really felt like he would be able to meet people in academic environments, as well as in community environments and with dignity and respect.”
As dean, Ramachandran’s duties will include creating an infrastructure and bringing together a team of investigators, educators and service providers for the mission of research, teaching and mapping local systemic health problems. He said he hopes the school’s students will work to solve those challenges by becoming public health workers after earning advanced degrees.
Potter said the UT System wanted the public health school to be committed to addressing the public health challenges directly impacting the people of South Texas.
“We wanted not just to be able to solve and attend to the local health problems, we wanted to be able to share our successes, using the very best scientific approach,” she said.
Ramachandran’s first days on the job will be focused on organization, being briefed on progress to date, curriculum planning, and defining his vision, said Potter.
The new dean said he will also be attending a series of meetings with key stakeholders at UT Health San Antonio, UTSA and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
Collaboration among these institutions will be key, he said, “to making an impact on the health status and well-being of the city, county and region.”
According to a press release, the school hopes to enroll as many as 400 graduate students within the first five years and will immediately offer a Master of Public Health degree; its Doctor of Public Health degree program is in development.