Dean Sandro Galea Leaving School of Public Health for WashU Opportunity.

Dean Sandro Galea speaking at podium

Dean Sandro Galea’s research, writing, and advocacy at BU increasingly focus on the social determinants of health—the underlying socioeconomic conditions that can play the largest roles in shaping public health. Photo by Cydney Scott.

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Dean Sandro Galea Leaving School of Public Health for WashU Opportunity

After a decade in Boston, Dean Galea will start a public health school at Washington University in St. Louis. 

May 9, 2024
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A version of this article originally appeared in BU Today.

Sandro Galea will step down as the dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health at the end of 2024 to launch and lead a new school of public health at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It’s a unique opportunity to create something new,” says Galea, who has been SPH dean since January 2015 and was named Robert A. Knox Professor in 2016. “It’s the right time for me to take on a new challenge, and the right time for [SPH] to take on a new leader.”

Galea says the opportunity at Washington University in St. Louis is “a unique opportunity to create something new” and offers him a new challenge at the right time.

Galea will be the inaugural dean of the School of Public Health at Washington University, a private research university in St. Louis, Mo., founded in 1853 and named for George Washington. BU officials, meanwhile, say they will share next steps around the appointment of Galea’s successor in the coming months. (Galea’s move comes as BU prepares to welcome its new president, Melissa L. Gilliam, on July 1.)

Galea says the opportunity at Washington University in St. Louis is “a unique opportunity to create something new” and offers him a new challenge at the right time.

“Sandro Galea is a trailblazer in the field of public health, and we’re elated he’s bringing his visionary leadership to WashU as the inaugural dean of our School of Public Health,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin says. “With Dean Galea leading the way, we’re poised to elevate community health to new heights in St. Louis and worldwide.”

The new school will concentrate on researching and advancing solutions to pressing issues and building partnerships for real-world impact in critical areas such as infectious disease, mental, global, and environmental health, and dissemination and implementation science.

“There have been many initiatives doing excellent public health scholarship at WashU over the past several decades,” Galea says. “There are faculty doing public health work in the Brown School of Social Work, in the School of Medicine, in the Institute for Public Health, in Centers in Arts and Science. The School of Public Health will now bring these all together into one school.”

Much of the groundwork is in place, he says, and the school is on track for accreditation by the time it opens its doors to students in 2026.

In recent years, Galea’s research, writing, and advocacy at BU have focused on the social determinants of health—the underlying socioeconomic conditions, such as income, education, and opportunity, that can play the largest roles in shaping public health.

“Dean Galea has been an exceptional leader for the School of Public Health,” says Kenneth Lutchen, BU provost ad interim. “He has developed a culture of pride and aspiration across the SPH faculty, advanced communications to the community that reinforced how SPH is impacting local and global health challenges, and developed new educational initiatives to expand the reach of SPH around the world.”

Galea’s accomplishments at SPH include overseeing the largest faculty hiring effort in the school’s history, doubling its research funding ($73.7 million this past year, BU’s second largest portfolio), and bumping up its rankings (No. 7 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 national ranking of public health schools). 

Other achievements include improving opportunities for all students by eliminating the GRE requirement; creating Generation Health, a large effort to subsidize student work in the community; and launching innovative educational programs, including a more affordable Online MPH focused on health equity.

“I’ve had this privilege of being in this great school and this great university in a city which is so progressive and committed to public health,” says Galea, who was named chair of the Boston Public Health Commission Board of Health in 2022. “This is a place which has a mayor and a governor that care about the things that we care about.”


I’ve had this privilege of being in this great school and this great university in a city which is so progressive and committed to public health.
Sandro Galea

Galea says SPH’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2026 also played into his decision. He says it would be best for a new dean to have the chance to use that celebration to launch the school into its next decade.

“Sandro Galea has brought the BU School of Public Health to a higher level of academic productivity and enhanced its reputation by his own numerous thoughtful publications on policy,” says Karen Antman, dean of the BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus.

Far from the halls of academia

A native of Malta, Galea moved to Canada with his family as a teenager. He earned a medical degree from the University of Toronto, a master’s in public health from Harvard University, and a doctorate from Columbia University, where he chaired the Mailman School of Public Health department of epidemiology before coming to BU.

But some of his most formative experiences occurred far from the halls of academia or the high-tech suites of modern medical centers, while working as an emergency room physician in remote northern Canada and for Doctors Without Borders in Somalia.

Additionally, in New York, following the terrorism attacks on 9/11, he began to study the mental health consequences on people impacted by that day, and eventually he became a leading expert in the health consequences of mass trauma, including Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has been widely published in scientific journals on that topic, but in recent years his writing and advocacy have turned to those social determinants of health and the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I took over here at the beginning of 2015, at a time when there was a real rethink and reengagement of public health into a broader agenda, where health equity is front and center,” Galea says, “where we recognize that structural racism and quality of housing and violence in neighborhoods all matter to health as much as, if not more than, biology and behavior. That was happening, and it was also the dawn of a really contentious, fractured time in society and in economies.”

Galea’s most recent books, both inspired by what he saw during COVID, are The Contagion Next Time (Oxford University Press, 2021), which examines how fixing social inequalities may be as important as high-tech medicine in stopping the next pandemic, and Within Reason: A Liberal Public Health for an Illiberal Time (University of Chicago Press, 2023), a look at how the medical and scientific communities could better handle communication and debate when the pressure is on.

“COVID showed us what was there already,” Galea says. “It showed us the underlying vulnerability, structural vulnerability, that we had a society which was already vulnerable to disease.

“These things, these forces all came together in the past decade. So it’s been a really interesting decade for the agenda of public health, and I think a really important one, where now we’re in a place where people talk about public health in a way they never have before.”

Galea’s “insights into the complex interplay between social, environmental, and health factors will be crucial as we seek to usher in the next era of public health in partnership with our community,” says Beverly Wendland, Washington University’s provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Washington University has also extended an opportunity to Galea’s wife, Margaret E. Kruk, a professor of health systems at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, who will start a center on health systems at Washington University. 

In a joint statement, Lutchen and Antman said: “We are grateful for Dean Galea’s exceptional service, energy, and direction at SPH over the last decade. The School of Public Health he leaves is well-positioned for the future as one of the nation’s preeminent institutions in this globally vital area.”

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Dean Sandro Galea Leaving School of Public Health for WashU Opportunity

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There is 1 comment on Dean Sandro Galea Leaving School of Public Health for WashU Opportunity

  1. I wish Dr. Galea well in his new endeavor. Washington University is gaining a great leader. It has been a pleasure to read the Healthiest Goldfish over the years and to take part in all the exciting events at the Bu School of Public Health that occurred during his tenure.

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