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The Department of Health, Behavior and Society is dedicated to pioneering research, training and public health practice scholarship focused on the influences of social context and behavior on impact and equity in population health—all with the aim of developing, evaluating and implementing solutions to pressing public health challenges and injustices in Baltimore, the United States and around the globe.

Our Story

How It All Began

The Department of Health, Behavior and Society was established in the summer of 2005, with a mission of advancing scientific understanding of the impact of the societal context and behavior on health.

Planning began in May 2003, when the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced that it would establish the new department with a $20M gift from an anonymous donor. Dean Alfred Sommer appointed the Behavior and Health Planning Committee to guide its development. The committee made a key recommendation that the department should apply a social-ecological approach to its work, which would include the study of not only individual behavior, but also the social context that shapes human behavior.


In May 2005, the Bloomberg School announced the selection of David Holtgrave, PhD, a nationally recognized leader in HIV prevention and social science, as the inaugural chair. Dr. Holtgrave served as chair for thirteen years, and the Department grew and flourished under his leadership. 

With the establishment of the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, we have an historic opportunity to generate scientific findings and train future public health leaders with the real potential to change behavioral and social aspects of public health for decades to come.
— David Holtgrave, PhD, Founding Chair

In November 2017, Dr. Holtgrave announced that he would leave the Bloomberg School to assume an appointment as Dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Upon Dr. Holtgrave's departure, Peg Ensminger, PhD, a professor in HBS, was appointed as Interim Chair, and she remained in that role until August 2019, when Rajiv Rimal, PhD, began his tenure as the new and current Department Chair.

Growth Over Time

Thanks to our first-rate faculty and students, the Department of Health, Behavior and Society continues to grow in terms of reputation, number of courses and number of research and practice projects.

The Department now includes 57 full-time faculty members, including leaders in the behavioral and social sciences and public health, up from an initial 20 faculty in 2005.  We have approximately 75 HBS students in our Department for the 2020-2021 academic year, up from the 40 students who initially transferred into the new Department.