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Undergraduate Programs Take on Public Health Education

April 20, 2009 By: Category: College Major Info, Employment trends, Top Stories

As our connections to the world become increasingly far-reaching and globalized, it’s more important than ever to provide education on issues from a broad perspective. Health is definitely one of those issues, and in response, more and more colleges are seeing the need to offer programs in Public Health to undergraduate students.

photo by ydnar

Public health generally refers to the promotion of community wellbeing (often on an international scale), including large-scale disease prevention, improving hygiene and sanitation, health education, and issues of poverty and healthcare, among other concepts. As one might guess, this has the potential to incorporate several disciplines, from sociology to politics to environmental science.

Until recently, programs related to public health topics were rarely offered to undergrads. Now colleges are seeing high interest in courses like Global Health and Epidemiology, from nursing and pre-med majors and non-majors alike.

“Today’s freshmen experienced the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and bird flu scares in their adolescent and high school years, and they have lived their entire lives in the shadow of AIDS,” wrote David Brown in an article for the Washington Post.

Not only does this background contribute to the increased student interest in public health, but it emphasizes the relevance and significance of the issue. As a result, some think that exploration of public health should be required in general education.

“[A] lot of it is about the fundamental concept that educated citizens make better choices,” said Susan Albertine in an article for Inside Higher Ed, senior director of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “We really thought that we should advocate for general education as a way to introduce the largest number of undergraduates to the concepts of public health.”

The interdisciplinary nature of public health topics makes this fairly easy to do. Public Health minors at College of Saint Rose can take Post 9/11: Ethical Issues in Disaster Planning and Response or Environmental Ethics to fulfill their requirements. Even without a Public Health major or minor program, Seattle University offers an elective course on HIV/AIDS: The Epidemic, incorporating psychology and biology, and Social Work majors are required to take Introduction to Alcohol and Drug Addiction.

Still, in spite of growth in undergraduate public health programs, most public health careers will ultimately require some graduate school. But in a world where an estimated billion people lack access to clean water and every 30 seconds a child is dying from malaria, the issue goes far beyond career.

“This is not about professional education. This is about citizenship,” said Albertine.

Readers, what do you think should be the place of Public Health in undergraduate education? Does it belong in general education and core requirements, or should pursuing the topic be a choice?

…..and as always, if you are interested in a public health degree, take the myUsearch questionnaire to find a degree that’s right for you.