Dr. William Sappenfield named 2022 Distinguished University Professor

| Academic & Student Affairs, Chiles Center, COPH Home Page Feed, Featured News, Maternal and Child Health, Monday Letter, Our Accolades, Our People

USF College of Public Health’s (COPH) Dr. William Sappenfield, director of the USF Chiles Center, was recently named a USF Distinguished University Professor.

The Distinguished University Professor award recognizes senior faculty members who have distinguished themselves among their peers both within and outside USF. The title is awarded through a process of nomination and external peer review. Those who hold the award are identified as outstanding members of their profession.

Becoming part of this elite group of professors means Sappenfield’s responsibilities will include serving in an advisory group for the provost and president of USF, providing counsel on issues affecting the overall academic and scholarly activities of the university and giving a university-wide address during the academic year.

“I am absolutely thrilled to share with you that Dr. Bill Sappenfield has just been named a Distinguished University Professor!” said COPH Dean Donna Petersen. “These honors are highly coveted and highly competitive. Many are nominated, with only a few selected. The selection process is an arduous one involving an intensive internal and external review of the candidate’s credentials.”

Dr. William Sappenfield (Photo by Caitlin Keough)
Dr. William Sappenfield (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

After a 22-year career as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologist, Sappenfield came to Florida in 2005 to serve as the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) state maternal and child health (MCH) epidemiologist and unit director for the MCH practice and analysis unit leading research, epidemiology, evaluation and health data efforts to guide policies and programs for Florida mothers and children.

At the DOH, he joined the pregnancy-associated mortality review team, bringing his epidemiological expertise to the table and leading deeper analyses of the mortality data. He led the development of perinatal periods of risk profiles for each county and each Healthy Start coalition area in the state, giving local MCH advocates understandable data to guide policy development. He also led efforts to monitor and study Florida’s high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Sappenfield then joined the faculty at the COPH in 2011, teaching maternal and child health, epidemiology and public health practice.

“From Dean Petersen, to the faculty, staff and students, I chose the COPH because public health is our passion and translation of research into practice is valued,” Sappenfield said. “Collaborating with others is a key component of the COPH’s DNA.”

Publishing extensively on maternal and infant mortality, morbidity and related health issues, he has also focused on mentoring and teaching young professionals to serve as MCH epidemiologists in governmental public health agencies at a local, state and national level. He also trains  multidisciplinary teams of public health practitioners and community members to effectively use data to improve maternal and child health.

Sappenfield was also instrumental in developing the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative (FPQC) in 2011, serving first as a co-director with Dr. John Curran, and the director since 2016. 

As director of the FPQC, Sappenfield champions its mission to advance health care quality and patient safety for all of Florida’s mothers and babies through collective quality improvement efforts with state and hospital partners.  

One of Sappenfield’s most rewarding experiences at the COPH was the FPQC earning the Sapphire Award.

“The FPQC as an organization receiving the Sapphire Award recognizing leadership, excellence and innovation in nonprofit community health leadership and programming improving maternal and infant health in Florida,” Sappenfield said.

Sappenfield’s current research projects include maternal and infant mortality, chronic diseases during pregnancy, assistive reproductive technology, unintended pregnancy and contraceptive use, non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks, population-based perinatal quality improvement efforts, access to childhood preventive dental care and use of data file linkages in maternal and child health.

“A recognition like this from your peers is always very special. It recognizes you and the value of the work that you do with others,” Sappenfield said. “You can only be effective in public health through working collaboratively with others.”

Sappenfield said that he will continue to strive to improve the health of Florida’s mothers and infants.

“This is not only a personal achievement for Dr. Sappenfield but an honor we can all share in as it contributes to the growing positive reputation of the COPH and ultimately in the larger community,” Petersen said. “We also know that none of us succeeds on our own—it takes teams of dedicated colleagues and the commitment of our highly skilled staff to complement and amplify the perseverance of a senior scholar devoted to his passion to make the world a better place, in this case, for women and children.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health