Who We Are

The Department of Sociomedical Sciences is dedicated to addressing the social forces that influence health. We set public health challenges in broad social, historical, and political contexts in local, regional, and global arenas. Faculty engage in action-oriented research that not only deepens critical scholarly perspectives in the social and behavioral sciences but also advances the practice of public health, empowers communities, and informs public policy. Our faculty and students explore a wide array of public health issues:

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Urban health
  • Sexual health
  • Cancer
  • Homelessness
  • Tobacco and drug use
  • Healthcare access
  • Mass incarceration
  • Environmental health
  • Adolescent health
  • Menstrual health 


Sociomedical Sciences is devoted to promoting equity and reducing health disparities. The department draws upon a diverse range of analytic methods and concepts from anthropology, behavioral science, ethics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology, as well as frameworks from health promotion and health communication to improve population health. 


In 1968, Columbia University School of Public Health became the first in the country to offer a graduate degree in the social sciences with a focus on health, fulfilling the promise from earlier in the century and helping to return the field's attention to these important questions. The department’s inception was at a critical point in history – the year of JFK’s assassination, the Kerner Commission’s report on urban rioting, the rise of Richard Nixon, a man was put on the moon, and the stirring of the oncoming HIV epidemic. These events are very much alive in the work Sociomedical Sciences continues to grabble with and attests to how essential a diverse focus on equity and health disparities is for the future of public health. Headed by the trailblazer Dr. Jack Elinson, the department became ground zero for building new understandings of health and positioning issues within social and economic determinants of health. 

The Department celebrated its 50th anniversary in April 2019 as well as its accomplishments and advances in public health research and the advancement of health equity.