Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD, has been selected as the new chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, effective July 1. 

Hu was the founding dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. He stepped down in 2017 after five years leading the school, and four as dean, and went on sabbatical at the University of Washington. He elected to stay there as affiliate professor the past two academic years to pursue his research endeavors.

These included collaborations with colleagues investigating the environmental, nutritional, social, psychosocial, genetic and epigenetic determinants of chronic disease and impaired child development in birth cohort and aging cohort studies in the U.S., Mexico, India, China and elsewhere.

His current focus as a principal investigator is continuing his NIH-funded environmental birth cohort research (the Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants, or ELEMENT project); leading the Global Burden of Disease-Population Health initiative, which aims to improve understanding of pollution’s “footprint” on the global burden of disease; and new projects related to COVID-19.  

At the University of Toronto, Hu advanced initiatives involving healthy cities; big data for population health; and the integration of the Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation, as well as the Joint Centre for Bioethics into the School. He also led the effort to create and secure a $10 million endowment for the Waakabiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, as well as $30 million in philanthropic gifts that support initiatives related to the integration of population health into primary care, social entrepreneurship, and addressing health inequities around the world. 

Hu’s teams have generated more than 300 peer-reviewed publications and have won multiple national and international awards, such as the 1999 Progress and Achievement Award from the U.S. NIH/NIEHS; the 2011 Award of Excellence from the American Public Health Association; and the 2015 John Goldsmith Award for Outstanding Contributions from the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. In 2016, Hu was elected to Fellowship in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Hu began his academic career in 1990 in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, while carrying a dual appointment in the Harvard School of Medicine; in 2002 he was promoted to full professor with tenure. In 2006 he was recruited as chair and professor to the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at University of Michigan School of Public Health, with dual appointments in epidemiology and medicine. At Michigan, he held the endowed NSF International Chair.

Hu has long been active in promoting peace internationally. In 1999-2000, he was a Senior Faculty Fulbright Scholar in India. He served on the Board of Directors of, and went on four fact-finding missions for, Physicians for Human Rights, and served on the Board of Population and Public Health Practice of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; the Board of Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Research Council; on the External Advisory Council of the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences; and as the chair of the Research Commission for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In that capacity, he and two colleagues published the 1995 scholarly book “Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and its Health and Environmental Effects.”

Hu majored in biology as an undergraduate at Brown University and received his MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He received his MPH, MS and ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health. He trained in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital, in Occupational Medicine at Harvard and is board certified in both.

Hu’s wife Rani Kotha will be joining the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. She previously served as the executive director of the University of Michigan Center for Global Health, and senior strategist at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Global Health Equity and Innovation. 

Hu takes over for Thomas Valente, PhD, who has served as interim chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine since 2018. Laura Mosqueda, MD, dean of the Keck School, thanked Valente “for his gracious assistance in the transition to a new chair.”

“He has been a thoughtful leader and has been an effective advocate for the faculty, staff and students in the department,” Mosqueda said.

— Landon Hall