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Prof. Theodore Witek to Helm Canada’s First DrPH Program

March 29/2021

By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Canada’s first Doctor of Public Health program has its first director – Theodore Witek, an IHPME and DLSPH professor with a long history at the intersection of academic research and industry leadership.

“I am very excited to contribute to the journey of our students, many applicants with non-traditional experiences such as my own. Our clear intention is to guide emerging leaders to make a difference to communities worldwide,” says Witek who is also an Adjunct Professor at IHPME.

Theodore Witek

Theodore Witek, Director of the DrPH program

Witek, a pharmacology scientist and senior executive, is also a 1987 graduate of Columbia University’s DrPH program.

“The DrPH was an important step in my career. My undergraduate strength was in physiology, pharmacology and toxicology,” says Witek. “The DrPH at Columbia afforded me many opportunities to contribute to some very important public health issues, including ambient and occupational air quality standards as well as asthma clusters driven by triggers in the inner-city home environment.”

Witek brings his knowledge from his alma mater to Toronto. DLSPH’s DrPH is designed to create sophisticated health leaders in government and industry with the academic grounding to make and evaluate difficult public health decisions. Witek has had to make quite a few in his career.

“Many of the issues one faces in the day-to-day business, whether it would be pharmaceutical or banking for that matter, impact the lives of many people,” says Witek. “We are making decisions that the benefit of the drug is going to outweigh the risk and we need to make sure the risks are conveyed, and people can make informed decisions on prescribing the product. I’ve been involved in making decisions about drug recalls and I have a particular interest in the industry’s need for substantiated information of their products.”

In his current research, he is evaluating truth and transparency in health care product advertising— specifically in biopharma and particularly around cannabis. Additionally, Witek and Prof. Rob Schwartz are evaluating leadership and accountability associated with atrophy of vigilance in public health pandemic preparedness.

Witek hopes students will focus on the public health basics before applying to the DrPH program. As a founding chair and volunteer of the Pomperaug District Department of Health in Connecticut, he notes “those of us with true public health training never forget the importance of fundamental concepts such as the social determinants of health, and other core principles such as air and water quality, wastewater management and food sanitation.”

As a director, he intends to mentor program students, many of whom are mid-career, while developing and expanding further elements of the program following its launch with the inaugural cohort this coming September.

“It doesn’t mean that other training programs are not giving you those skills, but this program has a focus in application and translation in leadership and governance,” he says. “It’s typically these things that others would not get in another doctoral degree. None of the approaches we take to serious problems are linear. The importance of leadership principles and applications of learning to final decisions and the ability to be flexible as one moves long in their career is something, I’ll be able to offer automatically to students.”