UF launches public health bachelor’s degree
By Jill Pease
The College of Public Health and Health Professions has received approval from the Florida Board of Governors to offer a bachelor’s degree in public health beginning this fall.
Interest in public health has exploded in recent years with the emergence of serious health issues at home and abroad, such as air pollution in Asian countries and the spread of the Zika virus, said Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the college. UF students will have the opportunity to gain broad public health knowledge at the undergraduate level as they pursue careers not only in health fields, but also in other areas where public health plays an important role, including public administration, law and government.
UF joins several top schools of public health in adding bachelor’s degree programs. The college currently offers a master’s degree in public health with several concentration areas and doctoral programs in each of the five core areas of public health.
“This bachelor’s program, more than any other, will provide interaction between students from the undergraduate campus with students, faculty and staff of the Health Science Center,” said Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., executive vice president for research and education at UF Health. “This is a win-win situation with UF’s superb undergraduates getting familiar with the highly rated graduate and professional programs on the Health Science Center campus. We would like to see more of them applying to our master’s and Ph.D. programs.”
Several courses in the new bachelor’s degree program will be presented in a blended learning format in which students receive lecture content online and use class time to participate in discussion and hands-on activities. The bachelor’s program is designed to prepare students for advanced degrees in public health and other health professions. While many students may go on to complete a master’s degree in public health, some will seek training in other health fields, such as nursing or medicine.
Job opportunities for graduates with bachelor’s degrees also exist in public health organizations, including county health departments and federal agencies.
In Florida and nationwide, communities are facing a shortage of public health workers. The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health estimates that 250,000 more public health workers are needed by 2020 to maintain capacity. Health departments and other agencies have employed people with bachelor’s degrees for years, although many have not had public health training, said Mary Peoples-Sheps, Dr.P.H., the college’s senior associate dean for public health before her retirement in 2014.
“The new crop of bachelor’s-level graduates will be well-qualified for those positions,” Peoples-Sheps said.
The interdisciplinary nature of public health, with core topics that include biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy and social and behavioral sciences, attracts students who have diverse interests, said Sarah McKune, Ph.D., M.P.H., the college’s director of public health programs.
“Students who will be drawn to the bachelor’s in public health are likely interested in the intersection of disciplines and motivated to approach what we call the ‘wicked problems’ in public health, the complex issues that require interdisciplinary teams to come together to find solutions,” she said. “These include issues of clean water, adequate food and poverty. No one discipline is going to find an answer to these problems.”