SIU School of Medicine creates new department

The Department of Population Science and Policy, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s first new department in nearly three decades, aims to be a champion for rural Illinoisans.

To improve the health and wellness in the 66 counties of central and southern Illinois, the department will identify community-based interventions and study how factors such as poverty, access to health care, education and housing affect people living in rural communities.

“This department provides a significantly new approach to health care that bridges data, health care delivery and social and environmental determinants of health,” said SIU Medicine dean and provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH. “It also reflects SIU Medicine’s deep commitment to improving health care in our rural communities.”

Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA, FAAP, has been named founding chair of the Department of Population Science and Policy. He also serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics, medical humanities, and law. He was recognized as one of Springfield Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 in 2017.

“Our mission, as one of the first Departments of Population Science and Policy in the United States, is to understand the health challenges of people in central and southern Illinois and find innovative, sustainable solutions to improve health in their communities,” said Vohra. “We work in conjunction with community partners to improve health outcomes in our medically underserved, rural service area.”

The Department of Population Science and Policy is the first of its kind: a department uniquely focused on understanding the health of populations and recommending policy solutions to improve health and wellness. The department consists of three divisions: Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Human and Community Development and Health System Science. These divisions will work together to assess the health of populations, measure the impact of social, biological and behavioral determinants of health, gauge health disparities and design population-level interventions and public policies to improve health outcomes. Furthermore, the department will create and implement academic curriculum to educate a new generation of physicians to practice through a population health lens.

Initial projects are addressing the opioid epidemic in the Illinois Delta Region, childhood growth and development, cancer disparities in rural communities and building community capacity for health improvement. “We are honored to uphold SIU’s commitment to serving our state’s rural residents and we look forward to improving health outcomes of our population,” said Vohra.


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