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University News

Proposal reimagines community health degree

Two new proposed requirements and a name change would go into effect in fall 2014

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 12, 2013

A proposal to change the name of and requirements for the community health concentration is pending approval from the College Curriculum Council, a body that reviews undergraduate curricula, said Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences William Rakowski.

This is an appropriate time to “align (the concentration) more closely to the direction we’re going as a school,” said Susan Allen, professor of health services policy and practice, since the Corporation approved the creation of the School of Public Health in February and the school now seeks accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health. Allen heads the Community Health Undergraduate Working Group, which is responsible for discussing and drafting the proposal.

The concentration would still require 12 courses but would require new introductory courses in epidemiology and biostatistics, instead of the general introductory methods course, Allen said.

The proposed concentration incorporates ideas from national standards for public health programs, emphasizing competencies that will be advantageous to students who wish to pursue post-baccalaureate degrees or apply for jobs in the field, said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy.

If approved, the new requirements will go into effect in fall 2014, Rakowski said.

The proposal also suggests renaming the concentration “public health” instead of “community health,” Allen said.

“We think an undergraduate concentration in public health will communicate more clearly to students what it is focusing on,” Wetle said, adding that the name change could draw in more concentrators.

The new name will also help graduates applying to jobs because employers are familiar with public health, Wetle said.

Employers are sometimes confused about what community health entails, Rakowski said.

The new course offerings are possible due to the expansion of the school’s faculty over the last several years, and they match the program’s shift toward public health, Wetle said.

“Epidemiology has always been an important part of public health,” she said. “For community health it may not have been quite as central.”

The courses will provide students with a good foundation to enter advanced courses in these areas, Wetle said, adding that graduate courses in the subjects are already open to undergraduates.

“I really believe there will be a big advantage teaching (biostatistics) ourselves,” Wetle said, because it will allow the department to teach statistics with data sets that address public health issues. Currently, students take statistics classes from other departments, like applied math or anthropology.

The proposed concentration merges two of the area requirements — U.S. Health Care Organization and Policy and Global Health — into one category, leaving room in students’ schedules for two additional required electives that count toward the concentration, Rakowski said.

“It’s giving a little more flexibility and choice of courses,” Rakowski said. Once the school is able to offer more courses in each of the areas, the categories will be separated again, he added.

As part of the proposal process, the Undergraduate Working Group presented its ideas to a focus group of eight Public Health Departmental Undergraduate Group leaders, Allen said.

All eight supported the changes, said Shannon Whittaker ’14, one of the DUG E-board members. “The only thing I didn’t like was that we wouldn’t be part of it,” she added.

The new introductory courses, especially biostatistics, will give students an advantage if they choose to pursue a master’s degree, Whittaker said.

Students are especially excited about the increased flexibility the additional electives will allow, said Allie Rosen ’15, a DUG E-board member. Rosen said she likes the addition of a public health statistics class because it will give more attention to the “quantitative side of public health.”

Rosen said she would also be interested in an Sc.B. option for concentrators and hopes administrators will look into this option as the school grows.

Though the timeline for the CCC’s decision is not yet clear, “I’m certainly hoping to have closure by early fall if not by the end of spring 2013,” Rakowski said.

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