School History


Dr. Milton Rosenau became director of the UNC School of Medicine’s new Division of Public Health in 1936.

In 1936, the School’s departments and programs were part of the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1940, the UNC Board of Trustees approved public health as a separate school within the university, and the School awarded its first degrees in 1940.

Through the years, the School has grown into seven departments and one program. The departments of epidemiology, environmental sciences and engineering, health policy and management, and public health nursing (now the public health leadership program) existed when the school was founded. The Department of Health Behavior was added in 1942, nutrition (also part of the School of Medicine) in 1946, biostatistics in 1949 and maternal and child health in 1950.

In September 2008, the school was named the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in recognition of a generous gift from Dennis Gillings and Joan Gillings. Dennis Gillings was a biostatistics professor at the School from 1971 to 1988 and is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Quintiles. Joan Gillings is a philanthropist and community volunteer. The $50 million donation was, at the time, the largest single gift in the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For more information, visit an exhibit featuring the School’s history on display at the UNC Health Sciences Library. The interactive Gillings School’s timeline offers a glimpse of our history and the history of public health.

The School of Public Health at UNC has been engaged in overcoming social and health injustices throughout its entire history. Faculty, students and staff continue this tradition of working collaboratively in communities across North Carolina to overcome barriers to good health for all.

“From its earliest days, the School has had a strong moral compass,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, current dean. “That’s why it was a hospitable place for a group of South African anti-apartheid faculty who emigrated here. That’s why Dan Okun (the late environmental sciences and engineering professor) and other faculty members marched for civil rights in the 1960s. And that’s why a great deal of our research was and is focused on overcoming health disparities.”

Faculty members have been coming and going across the world since the School began. For example, Bernard Greenberg, first a chair of biostatistics and later dean of the School, collaborated with colleagues in Egypt and a number of other countries, and our biostatisticians for years have trained their counterparts in Chile.

Today, the School continues to award doctoral, master’s and undergraduate degrees and certificates to students who take courses on campus or via the Internet as distance learners. The School is ranked the top public school of public health (#2 overall) by U.S. News and World Report (ranked in 2015 for the 2016 edition).