The College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University was formed in 2012 to offer students an education in ten health disciplines. In 2017, the college began a major transformation to better align with its mission to address the nation’s most pressing health challenges, eliminating disciplinary divisions and better positioning itself to improve health through interdisciplinary research, education and service. The College of Health Solutions prepares students to re-imagine health and help people achieve a better quality of life. The college is dedicated to translating scientific health research and discovery into practice to improve health outcomes for people and communities.
In 2017, $3.5 trillion was spent nationally on health and health care, which is nearly 18% of the country’s GDP. Yet, the United States has some of the worst health outcomes among industrialized nations. The largest portion of health spending in the United States is for chronic conditions, many of which can be prevented and managed with lifestyle changes. And while preventable health conditions account for 60 percent of premature deaths, insufficient public funding goes toward addressing the societal and environmental factors that inhibit good health. ASU leaders recognized that change is needed to tackle the nation’s pressing health challenges — that’s why the College of Health Solutions began a total transformation.
The College of Health Solutions was formed in 2012 to educate students in health studies. It started as a collection of disparate academic units on three campuses with faculty working in isolation. In 2017, Deborah Helitzer was recruited as the college’s new dean. A proven change agent, she began a large-scale effort to better align the college’s mission with the ASU charter, which says, in part, that it must take responsibility for health outcomes in the communities it serves. The college had great strengths, but was not organized in a way that delivered on this aspect of the charter’s promise.
Helitzer led more than 300 internal and external stakeholders — including ASU leaders, faculty, staff, students, community members and health system representatives — to reimagine what the college could be to make a difference in health. A team was formed to analyze data and create a vision for the college.
Traditionally, colleges do not design themselves from the ground up. This was a unique experience for faculty, staff and external stakeholders to work together to design the future of their college. Participants were encouraged to express their hopes and ideas for what the college could be and not feel bound by what it was. After numerous sessions, a new vision and structure for the college emerged. The result is a college reinvented from every angle, by the people who know it best.
Stakeholders agreed that collaboration, integrated education programs and community engagement would enable the college to impact population health. Incorporating this into a college structure wasn’t easy. To realize the vision, primary functions were centralized and all schools and departments within the college were disestablished.
The college is now poised to improve health outcomes. This is happening in multiple ways: by creating opportunities for students to apply entrepreneurial strategies to health problems, through research on chronic disease prevention, and with collaboration on policies and practices that directly address social determinants of health. New networks are emerging. Translational teams test interventions to positively impact significant health problems, while affinity networks explore a methodology or an opportunity for improvement in research and education. Degree programs integrate new knowledge from collaborative research and interventions for students who will one day have jobs that don’t currently exist. Faculty now come together from all areas of expertise.
Given the opportunity to dream big, stakeholders developed one of the most creative college models in the nation. Helitzer credits ASU’s culture of innovation that encourages risk-taking as the linchpin in the success of the redesign, as well as the ASU charter with its directives of inclusion, economic development and responsibility for community health.
“I’m excited for the possibility this gives ASU to make a significant and lasting impact on the health outcomes of our communities,” Helitzer said. “I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.”
Phoenix is ideal for innovation because of its growth, talented workforce and unmatched quality of life. The state has a highly diverse population that is underserved, lacks access to health care and is at higher risk for chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes. Our solutions can make a real difference.
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