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Public health program undergoes name change, curricular updates

The concentration’s renaming came partially in response to student concerns about job prospects

The College Curriculum Council approved a set of changes in May to the public health undergraduate program, including renaming the concentration from community health to public health, eliminating several requirements and adding new introductory courses.

Members of the class of 2016 will be the first to declare a concentration in public health under the new guidelines, said Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences William Rakowski, who helped coordinate the changes to the program.

The renaming of the concentration comes after the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, formally approved the creation of the School of Public Health in February.

“Now that we’ve transitioned from a program in public health to a school, it seems reasonable to transition the name of the concentration and also some of the requirements to more closely mirror what an undergraduate bachelor’s level ... concentration has to be for external accreditation,” Rakowski said.

Though the concentration still requires 12 courses, public health will feature two new requirements, Rakowksi said. Concentrators will have to take introductory courses in biostatistics and epidemiology, which will first be offered next fall, he said.

The new introductory courses will expose concentrators to different aspects of public health, said Elliott Liebling ’16, a leader of the Community Health Departmental Undergraduate Group.

“Now everyone’s going to have a lot more resources at their disposal,” he said.

Students’ employment-related concerns were one impetus for the changes, Rakowski said. Many community health concentrators previously told faculty members that prospective employers had trouble understanding what constituted a “community health” program, so the new name aims to remove such confusion. “Public health is a more recognized term,” he said.

“When I tell people I’m a community health major, people give me a blank look and don’t always really know that I’m talking about public health,” said Allison Rosen ’15, a leader of the Community Health DUG.

“I kind of use public health on my resume because a lot more job offers are presented when you say public health as opposed to community health,” said Shannon Whittaker ’14, another DUG leader.

Some students said they believe the two new introductory courses will enhance students’ learning.

“I’m in a biostatistics course right now, and it would have been great if I had taken an intro course beforehand,” Whittaker said, adding that epidemiology and biostatistics create a “solid foundation” for more advanced public health courses.

Though the new requirements add quantitative skills to the curriculum, DUG leader Emily Lemmerman ’14 said most current community health concentrators have not missed out.

“I believe that those who are interested in the more quantitative side of public health have supplemented their own coursework with more quantitative classes, which the Open Curriculum at Brown allows you to do,” Lemmerman said. But the new requirements could encourage concentrators to consider career paths in more quantitative fields of public health, she added.

The revamped concentration will offer more flexibility to students by providing them with more choices for elective courses, Rakowski said. Concentrators will now have four choices for electives with a health focus, rather than the current two options.

The CCC’s approved changes also include the elimination of several requirements, Rakowski said. A previous requirement, PHP 1320: “Survey Research in Health Care,” will not be part of the concentration beginning with the class of 2016, and concentrators will no longer be required to take a biology course, he added.

Liebling voiced frustration with the transition to the new curriculum, saying communication between administrators and concentrators has been inadequate. Many students are unsure of whether they will be labeled community health or public health concentrators, or of which requirements they need to fulfill, Liebling said, though he added that he generally approves of the University’s changes.

“It’s a step in the right direction, and I can’t blame the school,” Liebling said.

DUG leaders said they understood the timing of the University’s overhaul of the undergraduate public health program.

“It makes sense that the undergraduate degree would be changed to mirror the graduate program as the new official School of Public Health was approved,” Lemmerman said. “In the long run, we are happy that Brown has taken the step to make the degree more applicable to the public health field.”


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