Our history

Our history

Advancing public health through research excellence


The O'Brien Institute for Public Health is the newest University of Calgary research Institute within the Cumming School of Medicine.

The Institute came into existence in 2010 as a partnership between the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services (AHS), and was originally named the Calgary Institute for Population and Public Health.

Our members span the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services (singular health authority for the province of Alberta), community health stakeholders, the City of Calgary, the Province of Alberta, and other academic institutions. They represent a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, such as medicine, nursing, social work, arts, business, education, veterinary medicine, kinesiology, and environmental design/architecture. 

In the beginning, the vision was of a university-wide institute, spanning departments and faculties and including outside partners such as the Calgary Health Region, City of Calgary and the provincial government. The Institute was to include both traditional public health themes and health services research and would not be a separate faculty, but would remain an integral part of the University under the Cumming School of Medicine. The Calgary Institute for Population and Public Health was officially formed on July 1, 2010. 

After a very successful planning period and launch, an external search process resulted in the appointment of Dr. William Ghali as the Institute director. Ghali led the Institute through a decade of remarkable growth, recruiting and inspiring outstanding young scientists, creating a top external Advisory Board, connecting the Institute to the community and improving its impact. The most important step after the first five years was the investment by Gail and David O’Brien in funding and naming the institute as the O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

In March 2020, Dr. Ghali took on the role of the University of Calgary’s vice-president (research) and Institute associate scientific director at the time, Dr. Christine Friedenreich, PhD, took on the role of interim director. 

In November 2020, Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, was appointed and served as scientific director of the O’Brien Institute until 2023. 

In November 2023, Dr. Kirsten Fiest, PhD was appointed as Scientific Director of the O'Brien Institute.

Dr. Fiest brings a wealth of expertise, a commitment to advancing public health, and an inspiring vision for the institute's future to the role. Dr. Fiest's appointment as scientific director ensures a bright future for the O'Brien Institute, says Dr. Todd Anderson, dean of the CSM.

David and Gail O'Brien pose with an O

Gail and David O'Brien pose with their symbolic letter 'O' after their $12-million donation.

Jae Im

Re-naming the Institute

On September 23, 2014, the Institute was formally named the O'Brien Institute for Public Health, in recognition of a generous gift from David and Gail O'Brien, supporting research efforts toward better health and health care. Their continued close involvement with and support of the Institute has been instrumental in its success.

In its second decade, the O’Brien Institute is poised to address health equity and the conditions that determine health. Our goal is to foster continuous innovation so that sustainable, high-quality healthcare is available to all people.

Dr. Tom Stelfox

O'Brien Institute Scientific Director


The O'Brien Institute response to COVID-19

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 saw the O’Brien Institute community become heavily involved in the response to this emergency at the local, national and international levels. Institute members contributed to the global response by conducting research into all facets of the pandemic as well as by serving as leaders in local, national and international task forces and working groups.

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