York selects U of T psychologist as first Faculty of Health dean

York’s new Faculty of Health has its first dean – a psychologist who specializes in public health issues, new technologies for “e-Health” and behaviour change.

Harvey SkinnerThe appointment of Harvey Skinner was approved Monday by York’s Board of Governors. Skinner will become dean-designate on July 1, when the Faculty officially comes into existence, and will take up his duties full time on Sept. 1.

Right: Harvey Skinner

Currently Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, which he has led since 1997, Skinner received his PhD in psychology from the University of Western Ontario. He is a registered psychologist in Ontario, and a certified trainer in motivational interviewing.

“We are very excited to have Harvey Skinner joining us to lead the new Faculty of Health,” said President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “York’s unique interdisciplinary model will allow researchers from a wide variety of fields to come together to study critical health issues.”

“Coming to York to lead this new Faculty is an incredible opportunity, especially at a time when issues such as threats to public health and access to care have never been more topical,” said Skinner. “In addition, Canadians are working to rebuild the public health and healthcare systems including the healthcare workforce, which gives us tremendous opportunities for education and training.”

Skinner has extensive experience in academic leadership and change. He began as U of T’s Chair of the Department of Behavioural Science in 1988, and subsequently led the merger of three academic departments to form the Department of Public Health Sciences in 1997. In his new position as dean of York’s Faculty of Health, he will bring together under one academic roof renowned researchers and teachers from the psychology departments of the Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson School of Liberal & Professional Studies, as well as from the School of Nursing, the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and the School of Health Policy & Management.

The new Faculty is designed to demonstrate and enhance the University’s key role in health research and knowledge transfer. “It’s an exciting time,” says Skinner. He sees two broad goals for the Faculty: first, improving the health of the whole population by expanding knowledge about determinants linked with effective interventions, and second, addressing disparities in health status and opportunities. He notes that in post-SARS Canada, both the federal and Ontario governments are setting up new public health agencies. At York, there are also opportunities for strategic community partnerships in the fast-growing 905 region. And he wants to build on York’s strengths in the study of international issues to focus on global health concerns.

Skinner has a special interest in international health. He serves on the board and is research director of the Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (www.cisepo.ca), which is leading innovative programs for building Arab and Israeli cooperation through health initiatives. He has also served as an expert adviser to the World Health Organization, the US Institute of Medicine, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Fogarty International Center. In Canada, he was a member of the board of the Canadian Public Health Association from 1997 to 2005 and the Canadian Health Network from 1998 to 2001. 

The incoming dean is the author or co-author of seven books, including Promoting Health Through Organizational Change (2002), over 100 articles and chapters, and various behaviour assessment instruments. Three of his instruments are widely used internationally for the assessment of alcohol dependence (Alcohol Dependence Scale), the detection of drug problems (Drug Abuse Screening Test), and assessment of family functioning (Family Assessment Measure).

Skinner was one of the first to focus on linking behaviour change, organizational improvement and information technology for “e-Health”. He has been a pioneer in the use of information and computer technology for health assessment and behaviour change, and in 1995 helped initiate a major program of research called TeenNet using the Internet for engaging youth in health promotion (www.teennet.ca).

He is in demand as a presenter at seminars and workshops around the world and has been a pioneer in the use of computer technology in health. He regularly leads workshops on lowering resistance and enhancing motivation for change at individual and organizational levels. His expertise is sought by health organizations, governments, universities and practitioners.

Born in Kirkland Lake, Ont., raised in southwestern Ontario, and a resident of Toronto with his family since 1976, Skinner is an avid runner (seven marathons completed) and enjoys sailing and skiing. His personal Web site is www.HealthBehaviorChange.org.