Pursuing Public Health

Pursuing Public Health: USF Introduces First of its Kind New Program

The College of Public Health now offers the first bachelor’s of science degree in public health at an accredited college in Florida.

By: Meghan Mangrum

Nov. 22, 2010

TAMPA, FLA. – Previously only offering graduate degrees, the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida now offers a new undergraduate major in public health that gives students interested in healthcare even more opportunities. A faculty-inspired initiative, this program, which is the first of its kind at an accredited college of public health in Florida, offers students an alternative program for those interested in the health field.

“In the simplest of terms I think it offers three things,” said Donna Petersen, ScD, MHS, dean of the College of Public Health, “First, is the opportunity with a bachelor’s degree to enter the workforce. Second, it is an excellent pathway to further graduate studies and third, it is very important to us as a society to understand what public health is and why it matters to us.”

The new program is a generalist degree that provides students with the courses and experiences required for entry-level public health jobs or admission into graduate programs. The purpose of the undergraduate degree is to “promote student centered learning so that students may articulate the role of public health locally, statewide, nationally and globally,” according to the USF Undergraduate Course Catalog.

The idea, which started to take shape over two years ago, was fueled by faculty interest in teaching undergraduate students. The College of Public Health’s doctoral students previously taught undergraduate courses for a public health minor that has existed since fall 2005. The faculty’s desire to create this program was spurred by the growing interest in public health nationally.

“There was this whole movement across the country to create undergraduate public health degrees in and outside of schools of public health,” Petersen said, “and we didn’t want to be last to that table.”

Alarmed by the degree of “misinformation, misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about public health,” Petersen said “maybe if we had more college students understanding something about public health, they would be more interested and more knowledgeable.”

A degree in public health can lead to a variety of fields due to the wide range of subjects in encompasses. “Public health is the bigger picture. It includes everything from what is making these people sick in the first place to how healthcare should be organized and financed,” Petersen said. “The cool thing about public health is that it is everywhere, it is everybody and it is everything.”

Originally advised to expect approximately 800 students, there are many types of students interested in the new program.

“Many students interested in health don’t understand or appreciate that there are a lot of other options out there,” Petersen said, speaking of students interested in medical school. Many students pursuing the new program were originally biomedical sciences majors, but many students have come from other areas as well. “It is another option, another alternative, a different twist on health,” Petersen said. The new program does offer alternatives and therefore is attractive to many students.

“Public health is one of those fields that is constantly changing,” said Brandis Waiz, a senior majoring in biology and minoring in public health. “There will never not be a need for people to work in the public health spectrum.”

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