The University of Toronto will open what it believes will be one of the top schools for public health in the world, according to Professor Catharine Whiteside, dean of the U of T faculty of medicine.
"We're pretty excited. We've been working on this for about two years," said Whiteside.
The school is being funded by a $20 million gift by Paul Dalla Lana and his wife Alessandra. Dalla Lana, a Toronto real estate investor and owner of a large portfolio of medical office buildings, appeared rather "serendipitously on our radar before Christmas last year," said Whiteside. "He had mentioned to one of our senior leaders that he had an interest in public health. The connections... were made and he agreed to meet with us. It just so happened we had the school for public health in the works."
In recognition of the Dalla Lanas' donation, the largest to public health in Canadian history, the university will christen the school the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Its focus will be on areas such as population health, health services, policy, statistical analysis, health systems and disease protection.
In North America, there are several schools of public health, said Whiteside, including the Rollins School at Emory University in Atlanta.
"These are places where there is typically a relationship with surveillance of disease, communicable disease. For example, in Atlanta, the Rollins school works with the Center for Disease Control. They'd go to the school of public health to seek advice."
The Dalla Lana School will be the hub of Canada's largest network of public health researchers and educators dedicated to disease prevention and health promotion. Interdisciplinary research and education will be a focus.
"We'll be able to expand our teaching faculty and broaden the scope and depth of our academic programs in education and research," Whiteside told The Guardian.
Winnipeg-born Dr. Jack Mandel, chair of epidemiology at Atlanta's Emory University, will return to Canada to helm the U of T school. Mandel is well known for his ground-breaking research on the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.
"With the remarkable leadership of Jack Mandel, the great staff, faculty and students of our university and this transformative gift from Paul and Alessandra, we are now in a position to compete with the best schools of public health south of the border," said Professor David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto, in a statement.
The Dalla Lana School will team with other disciplines and university units such as dentistry, nursing and health policy management and evaluation, and key partners such as the U of T's affiliated hospitals, local, provincial and national governments and public health agencies.
The school of public health will offer programs in biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental and occupational health sciences, social and behavioural health sciences, public health administration and global health.
Officially launched at a ceremony April 30, it will welcome its first students this September.