As the new dean of the Yale School of Public Health effective July 1, Dr. Megan L. Ranney takes leadership of the school at a critical juncture in its history. An emergency physician and innovative leader in public health, Ranney is nationally known for her advocacy and research on firearm injury prevention as well as her community-driven approaches to addressing longstanding and emerging public health problems. As dean, she will oversee the school’s historic transition from a department within the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) to a fully independent, self-sustaining professional school. Ranney, who was recently named the C.-E. A. Winslow Professor of Public Health at YSPH and professor of emergency medicine at YSM, was previously deputy dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. She has been visiting YSPH periodically over the past few months to become better acquainted with the school. She recently took a moment to discuss her priorities as dean, her vision for YSPH, and her thoughts on some of the prominent issues facing the field of public health today. The following has been edited for length and clarity. Now that you’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the folks here and tour our facilities, what are your overall impressions of the Yale School of Public Health? M.R.: My top impression is the degree of excellence among our staff, our faculty, and our students — the quality of our research across multiple domains and disciplines; the quality of our educational offerings; and the engagement we have with the larger community. Prior to starting, I was already aware of many areas in which YSPH excels and is pushing boundaries in terms of having an impact on public health — the work that we're doing to inform health policy with the state of Connecticut; the work being done overcoming stigma and structural disparities for issues ranging from aging, to the LGBTQ+ community, to structural racism; our modeling and data science work; our work on climate change. And of course, there is the tremendous reputation of the school in terms of public health leadership and developing the next generation of health leaders. I think it's also clear that this is a school that is in a period of transition. Although YSPH has a storied history and tremendous faculty, students, staff, and alums, it is also a school that has always been part of a larger school. So, there is a kind of excitement for independence that is also quite evident to me. What are your top priorities in your first year as dean? M.R.: My very first priority, the most important thing, is listening and meeting people. I know some of the excellent work that is being done across the school, but not all of it. I also don't yet have a full grasp of where there are untapped opportunities. So that's really my first job, to fully understand what is being done and to think together about what's possible. My second big job this year is to create the structures and systems that are going to allow us to thrive as an independent organization. That ranges from the very visible and obvious like defining our space needs, to doing things that may fly underneath the radar, like structuring our human resources and financial planning systems to support autonomy. My third priority is setting our school up to grow off the existing amazing work we’re doing – and by that, I mean not just structurally, but philosophically as well. We should use this opportunity to create a vision and strategy that positions YSPH as the leader, and definer, of the public health of the future. I've said in prior interviews that there are four pillars that I believe are going to be the crux of the future of public health and that will, I think, allow our school to be seen as the school that has the greatest impact on human health in in the world. And those are inclusion and community, innovation and entrepreneurship, communication, and data-driven leadership. And so, my final goal for this year is to learn about ways that these pillars are already showing up in our work. We should be thinking together about where we need to grow and what we need to put in place as a community to enable us to really be known, not just nationally, but globally, as the school that is on the cutting edge of public health, and that is really transforming human health. Of course, we want to do great research and have terrific educational offerings and be a great place to work. But ultimately, we are all at a school of public health because we want to make the world healthier, and I want our school to be known as the one that has the biggest impact on actually making the world healthier. In many ways we already are, but as dean, my goal is to set up structures and systems that will supercharge that work. This is the most exciting part of the work ahead! What can we expect with the transition process and how long do you think the journey to independence will take? M.R.: I think there's some stuff that we're going to be able to do quickly and some stuff that's going to take a bit longer. And I'll be honest, I don't yet know enough to be able to say, “This is going to be done in month one, and this is going to be done in month 12.” I was at Brown when the school of public health there separated from the medical school. I've also been part of a major administrative restructuring at the Brown School of Public Health over the past three years. Yale is a different place than Brown and so it's not a direct translation of lessons learned. But one of the things that became very clear to me is the importance of acting based on an understanding of the needs of the community, as well as the importance of, again, making sure the structures in place reflect our goals. Obviously, we're going to work on space. We're going to work on our faculty tracks. We're going to work on structures for staff and make sure this is a place in which people love to work. And we are going to do all of that together. Finally, I just want to emphasize that this is going to be collaborative work. The success of our transition to being autonomous is going to depend on all of us being on board with the fact that we get to create this future together. We get to define what the school of public health of the future looks like. That's an incredible once-in-a-lifetime, historic opportunity that very few schools have. In advance of the transition, Yale University has committed $100 million to the Yale School of Public Health’s endowment. There has been some confusion about the potential use of those funds. Can you help clarify? M.R.: Yes, thank you for the question. One of my big learning points in my last administrative role was learning in detail how endowments work. The truth about that $100 million is that it is not $100 million in spending cash. And I think this is a really important message. That $100 million is endowment that produces somewhere between $4-5 million dollars a year in usable funds, which sounds like a lot but basically allows us to run the school. I am unbelievably appreciative and grateful to Yale leadership for making that promise and commitment to our school. So, I want to be clear that this generous endowment is there to allow us to set up the independent, autonomous, robust structure that we are striving for and that will allow us to soar. It is not free cash that we can use without discretion. This money gives us a little financial cushion to build out the structure we need. Some people may not realize the extent to which we currently depend on YSM for some resources. This money helps us put our own structures in place. Let’s talk about Megan Ranney for a moment. What do you want people to know about you and your leadership style? M.R.: So, I’m from Buffalo, New York. I married my childhood sweetheart and I have two kids who are entering the ninth and sixth grade. So that’s some personal stuff about me. I am trained as both an emergency physician and as a public health researcher, with a focus on injury prevention. I will say that one of the things about my leadership style comes from my training in emergency medicine. There are two parts to being a great emergency physician. One is the ability to simultaneously triage and look upstream at what's coming next — the ability to hold competing parts of reality in your mind. The other part is teamwork because nothing in the emergency department works without a team. A huge part of my leadership style is that kind of awareness of and commitment to elevating, amplifying, and creating clarity for my larger team whether it's senior staff and junior staff or whether it's students, faculty leaders, or junior faculty. I’m always thinking about how we can contribute together, making sure that I know you as much as possible personally and that we are set up to do our best work in the service of our mission. Everyone has a role to play, and the success of our organization depends on all of us being set up to succeed. I think that's key. The other thing is that I am very relationship based. One of the things I’m looking forward to in coming to Yale is creating those relationships. I may not see everyone across the school every day, but knowing a little bit about you, knowing a little bit about your history, understanding what excites you about public health, and what your strengths are allows us to work better collaboratively. I am not someone who just leads from above. To me, relationships in the community are at the core of what we do. That's a big thing that I'll be bringing with me, both within the school of public health, but also hopefully across Yale and across the larger New Haven, and Connecticut community as well. You’ve been outspoken about the urgent need to address firearm injury in the U.S. and the fact that firearm injury prevention is a public health issue. Do you plan to continue your gun violence research at Yale? M.R.: Firearm injury prevention is an issue that I care deeply about and I'm certainly going to bring that commitment with me to Yale. One of the reasons why I am so excited about this deanship is the potential to elevate the school’s work on this issue. There's a tremendous opportunity to conduct important work in this area in New Haven and Connecticut, as well as a history of tragedy that we must respect and listen to. I look forward to enhancing our school’s leadership in both science and action in this space, in collaboration with the community. One of your innovations at Brown was your founding of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health, which seeks to apply digital solutions to pressing health care challenges. What are your thoughts on the importance of innovation in public health? M.R.: One of the core pillars of the future of public health is innovation and entrepreneurship – having the ability to adopt and sustainably implement new technologies and new solutions to improve the health of individuals, communities, and greater society. Part of our job as a school of public health is to both respond to the thing in front of us and also to make sure we are prepared for whatever is coming next. I look forward to working within the larger Yale, New Haven, and Connecticut community, as well as with for-profit and not-for-profit entities across the country and the globe, to advance this kind of entrepreneurship so that our students are trained to be public health leaders at these companies that are creating and deploying these new products. This is an essential area for us to be in. And of course, as we do this work, we always have to keep an eye on whatever is coming next. What do you see as some of the most pressing challenges facing the field of public health today and how can we best address them? M.R.: To me, one of the biggest challenges facing public health is helping the public recognize and value the work that public health does. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the broader lay community is beginning to understand what public health does, and the importance of our work. But we need to make sure we’re communicating the full spectrum and impact of the work we do – not just to those in public health and health care, who understand it, but also to and with the wider public. Public health really is the foundation of human health across the nation and across the globe. My hope is that our school will be robust and nimble and focused on addressing, not just the public health problems of the present, but also the public health problems of the future. Our graduates, our faculty, and our staff should be set up with the skills and the confidence to go out and lead change to actually improve people’s lives, no matter what challenges come next. Historically, public health has been a force for societal change, but how do you believe the public health community can make an even more meaningful impact on society? M.R.: As public health professionals, of course we have to understand the science. But we cannot stay within the walls of our laboratories or behind the pages of our science journals. We need to deeply understand the communities that we work with, that we are impacting, and the modes of power and influence in society, whether it's media, or legislators, or faith-based leaders, and be able to work with them. We need to have an unfailing dedication to advancing change based on the knowledge that we're creating. Advocacy is a part of that. But to me, it's also about having the skill set to put the ideas and the programs that we have spent so much time researching and learning about into action. I absolutely 100% believe that we need to be able to take our work and put it out into the public sphere. That is one of the core functions of public health in general, but it also must be one of the core functions of our school of public health. My biggest hope and dream for our school is that we're known for taking knowledge and putting it into action. 12 things you may not know about Dr. Megan Ranney In high school, she led a local effort to prevent substance use and improve food security for low-income and elderly populations.As a Harvard undergrad and a history of science major, Ranney once wrote a paper on 19th century conceptions of stress.Ranney graduated summa cum laude from Harvard (but will root for Yale at The Game this year!).After graduating college, she worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.While pursuing her medical degree at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ranney was a member of both Alpha Omega Alpha and the Gold Humanism Honor Society.Ranney obtained her MPH from Brown. The title of her master’s thesis was: “Surveys in injury research: their application to unintentional and intentional injury prevention.”During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ranney launched a grassroots #GetUsPPE campaign that delivered 17 million pieces of personal protective equipment to frontline workers and under-resourced communities at no cost.Ranney is a co-founder and senior strategic advisor for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM) at the Aspen Institute.She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2022.A Buffalo, N.Y. native, Ranney remains a Buffalo Bills fan. Ranney’s mother was the first in her family to go to college.When she isn’t working, Ranney is most often found cheering on her kids’ activities.