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Faculty Profile

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson, MSW, director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, brings a comprehensive approach to his work as senior lecturer in the Extended MPH Degree Program. Before coming to the University of Washington, his grassroots involvement in many community health projects in the Seattle area gave him insights into what people care about most and what kinds of health programs have the greatest impact. He strives to "make sure that academic public health is relevant to medical practice and that medical practice appreciates the preparations made by public health." As a community organizer in the 1970s, Thompson saw firsthand that "health is a good organizing vehicle": a topic that people care about deeply and rally around. His work in the areas of long-term and primary care led him to focus more intently on community health care, and that area is where he remains today.

Thompson has been involved in community health projects in Seattle for over 30 years. When he directed Neighborhood Health Centers of Seattle, a consortium of community health centers, he helped establish clinics in public housing projects. He attributes the success of these clinics, in part, to the sense of ownership felt by the residents who used them, some of whom served on the clinic boards of directors. Likewise, as director of the Seattle Health Services Division, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health (now Public Health Seattle & King County), he helped establish teen health clinics in public high schools in collaboration with the Seattle School District and a range of community providers, including hospitals and health centers. "Community" may be an omnipresent concept these days, but it is one that Thompson has aligned with throughout his long career in public health.

In his current role as director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice, Thompson works with state, local, and tribal communities in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. And the intensive, on-site course he teaches to first-year students in the Extended MPH Degree Program is called Public Health Practice at the Local Level. The focus of the course is on constituency development, or in Thompson's words, "trying to make sure communities understand public health and what's going on in their community regarding public health." During the first two weeks, guest speakers from state, local, and tribal communities provide students with an overview of state and local public health practice. In the second two weeks, students organize class sessions around current public health issues, sometimes collaborating with leaders in the field, some of whom may have presented earlier in the course. Projects cover a range of topics, from constituency development, policy and financing, program development, hazard preparedness (for earthquakes, bioterrorism, and other disasters), to environmental health.

Thompson sees the success of the Extended MPH Degree Program throughout the multi-state region he oversees. In all those states, graduates of the program occupy key leadership roles. He says the program reflects well what the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice is trying to do: be a "model for training, networking, and collaborating with public-health partners." There's that concept of community again—it's never far from Thompson's mind.