Dr. Thomas Dobbs-Dean of Population Health

Dr. Dobbs is the third person to lead the John D. Bower School of Population Health (SOPH).

Effective August 1st, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, former state health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, now serves as the new Dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health (SOPH).

Dr. Dobbs is the third person to lead SOPH, which was established in 2016 under founding dean Dr. Bettina Beech, becoming only the third school of population health in the country.

Dr. Dobbs has spent most of his career as a public health servant. However, a career in medicine was not his first choice. As an applied physics major at Emory University, Dr. Dobbs had plans of becoming a theoretical physicist.

“A summer spent at the university’s hospital, where he learned that working in health care is a marriage of science, service and humanities, brought a change of heart to the Alabama native,” a release from UMMC said. 

“It seemed like the right thing,” Dr. Dobbs said. “I was plenty smart, but I was never gonna win a Nobel Prize.”

Dr. Scott Rodgers, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said Dobbs brings a wealth of experience to the role. Rodgers said that the new Dean isn’t afraid of hard work and possesses a high level of compassion and grit that enabled him to succeed in his role for the state.

“In his role as the state health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health, Dr. Dobbs had responsibility over a large organization that worked to meet the health care needs of the roughly 3 million people residing in Mississippi,” Rodgers said. “He has traveled all over the state, meeting people where they live, interacting with and learning from community leaders, and extending a helping hand wherever and whenever possible.”

“He has exactly the right mix of experience, wisdom, know-how and transformative spirit to succeed at a high level, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for his school. We are in exceptional hands,” Rodgers added.

Before his appointment as Dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health, Dobbs served the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) as state epidemiologist and regional, deputy and state health officer, the latter of which he directed the state’s response to the COVID pandemic and addressed health inequities that plague the state.

Dobbs has also worked in national and international leadership roles in the fight against diseases including HIV and tuberculosis.

“And having had other leadership roles that involve varying degrees of stress and challenges, having weathered some of those and learned from them, hopefully I can bring something to the school,” Dobbs said about his new position.

Through his position as Dean, Dobbs leads a school that consists of three departments: data science, which focuses on extracting knowledge and insights from data; population health science, which trains graduates to use policies, programs and other interventions to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities; and preventive medicine, which, shared with the School of Medicine, trains health professionals in disease prevention and health promotion for both individuals and populations.

Dobbs has established a few short-term goals: to grow enrollment, which stands at 58 students and to provide what he calls a “population-based mentality” and educational curriculum to other schools at UMMC.

Dobbs said he wants the school to be a “force for driving, inducing, catalyzing change” in the state, particularly in areas that make communities unhealthy that others in health care don’t have time to focus on.

On paper, Dobbs spends 70% of each week doing administrative work and teaching, 20% on infectious disease and clinical work through an appointment in the Division of Infection Diseases under the Department of Medicine, and 10% assigned to the health department running the Crossroads Sexual Health Clinic.

The new Dean works closely with the Jackson Heart Study, Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, Adult Specialty Care, and people living with HIV.

“It’s a nice balance. Variety’s fun. Things overlap,” he said of his responsibilities. “It also keeps me part of the public health, and having that appointment in the health department helps maintain that relationship, because population health and public health go hand in hand.”

The Center for Telehealth worked with the Department of Infectious Diseases to develop an app that will provide education and access to care for patients at high risk for HIV. The app will be available via app stores in the coming weeks.

“We are very excited to partner with Dr. Dobbs and leverage his knowledge and expertise to make this app available to high-risk patients in the state as well as provide access to health care through telemedicine for patients already diagnosed with HIV.”

According to the UMMC release, Dr. Dobbs invites others interested in pursuing a population health agenda to reach out about forming partnerships.