Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., FACE, will step down from her position as chair of the department of epidemiology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine at the end of 2018.
She will continue to serve as a professor in the department — focusing on her new National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study — and in her roles as PHHP’s associate dean for research and founding director of UF HealthStreet.
“Dr. Cottler has done an exceptional job as founding chair of the department of epidemiology,” said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions. “Under her leadership, the department has developed into a highly productive unit that is making important contributions to the teaching, research and service missions of the academic health center and the university. Dr. Cottler has earned our gratitude for building a strong foundation that will serve the department well for many years to come.”
An internationally recognized expert in psychiatric epidemiology, Cottler joined the university in 2011 as the founding chair of the UF department of epidemiology. Over the past seven and a half years, she has led the department through a period of significant growth in academic programs, faculty members, research awards and community engagement projects.
“We’ve not even had our 10th anniversary as a department and I’m really proud of what we have accomplished in a short period of time,” Cottler said.
Since 2011, the department has graduated 32 students from its doctoral program in epidemiology. It also participates in teaching and advising students in the master’s in public health program’s epidemiology concentration. In addition, the department has added a master’s degree in epidemiology — now with 16 graduates — and a certificate in psychiatric epidemiology, the only one of its kind.
The department houses two National Institutes of Health-funded T32 training programs. A National Institute on Drug Abuse program, led by Cottler, prepares pre and postdoctoral fellows for careers in research on drug use, addiction and consequences of addiction. Robert Cook, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of epidemiology and medicine, co-directs a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism training program to prepare the next generation of scientists to address problems related to alcohol and HIV.
Cottler also leads an NIH Fogarty International Center program that offers behavioral health training to Indian colleagues and increases research opportunities between UF and Indian partners. The program has brought 17 postdoctoral and one predoctoral fellow to UF for training.
Studies by the department’s 19 full-time faculty members focus on addiction; bioinformatics; cancer, cardiovascular, chronic disease, and genetic epidemiology; infectious disease; social and psychiatric epidemiology; prevention; women’s health; and global health. The department is also home to the Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium, or SHARC, led by Cook. Over the past fiscal year, faculty members published 114 journal articles and received $6.7 million in research funding.
“We have a very strong research portfolio and every person in this department is focused on increasing health equity and reducing disparities,” Cottler said.
In partnership with the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the colleges of PHHP and Medicine, the department launched UF HealthStreet in 2011. The community engagement program seeks to reduce disparities in health care and improve access to research studies among people who are medically underserved by meeting people out in the community and linking them to research opportunities and services. UF HealthStreet now has nearly 11,000 members from the community, and just received IRB approval to now link to medical records. UF HealthStreet also hosts “Our Community, Our Health,” a series of national town hall meetings designed to facilitate two-way communication between researchers and community members.
Beyond the important contributions the faculty and students are making to their fields, there is a closeness among members of the department that comes from a shared vision, Cottler said.
“There is a feeling among the department that you are working with a family, people who have the same ideals and really want to improve public health,” she said. “They truly want to make a difference in the world and I think that’s what makes the people in the department exceptional.”
In her own research, Cottler has focused on underrepresented populations. Her studies, which have been funded by the NIH continuously since 1989, include the development of culturally reliable and valid measures for identifying substance use and psychiatric disorders and their risk factors and innovative methods for conducting national surveys of high risk behaviors. Most recently, she has begun conducting a back translational study addressing the patterns of human drug use in animal models. Her UF collaborators include faculty in the colleges of Dentistry, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy.
She is an elected member of the board of directors of the Association for Clinical and Translational Science and the recipient of several awards. These include fellowship in the American College of Epidemiology, the American College of Epidemiology’s 2015 Special Award for Outstanding Contributions Through Systemic Epidemiologic Approaches to Improving Health, the Scientific Achievement Award from the National Center for Responsible Gaming, and UF’s Senior International Educator of the Year. In 2016, she was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in public health from Thailand’s leading research university, Chulalongkorn University.
“I am excited to spend time now as a faculty member in the department, working with colleagues to help contribute to the growth of the department,” she said.