Faces of Public Health: Melvin D. Shipp, APHA President

Nov 14, 2011, 6:54 PM, Posted by

Melvin D. Shipp, dean of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, was elected to a two-year term as president of the American Public Health Association (APHA) at the organization’s recent annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Dr. Shipp has served on the APHA Executive Board of Directors and was founding chair of the APHA Education Committee. Dr. Shipp has also been an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, the National Eye Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, he co-chaired the development of a CDC-sponsored vision health initiative, Improving the Nation’s Vision Health: a Coordinated Public Health Approach.

Dr. Shipp is a former Robert Wood Johnson Health Foundation Policy Fellow and during the fellowship, served as a health legislative assistant to Senator Donald Riegle, Jr. (D-MI).

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Shipp after his election as APHA president.

NewPublicHealth: What’s key as you begin your presidency?

Dr. Melvin Shipp: The public health system for a very long time has had a track record of making major changes in the health status of people in this country and throughout the world. Although much has been done, there’s still yet much to do. Recent studies show that the U.S. spends more than many other countries on health care but the health status of too many people in the U.S. is at or below that of most developed countries. I think the biggest reason we have those differences is because of the health disparities that exist in our country. And I think one way public health workers can make a difference in those disparities is with a focus on primary prevention.

NPH: What else?

Dr. Shipp: A key thing is to address our membership issue. We’re not unique in that our membership numbers have remained relatively stagnant over time, and we are looking very carefully at how we can change that to increase membership within our organization and perhaps even restructure our organization so that it’s easier for people to become involved in public health. We want to include both those who work in the field and those from other fields who could have a role.

Externally, I’m looking forward to APHA better engaging like-minded organizations who are trying to pursue the same goals, and work together collaboratively in a more efficient, more productive way.

NPH: Improving employment opportunities in public health is front and center at APHA and you’re working with the Clinton Global Initiative. Are you optimistic about increasing positions for people in public health?

Dr. Shipp: In the economic times that we find ourselves in I would hope that we at least hold our own. But we are poised to work hard to increase the number of positions and cover more people in the U.S. with an increased number of public health members. It’s too costly, in too many ways, not to do so.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.