Just what the doctor ordered

Ryan Jarvi

After almost two years of preparations, Grand Valley State University has launched its new Master of Public Health program in the College of Health Professions.

“The College of Health Professions is enthusiastic to welcome public health to our degree offerings,” said Ranelle Brew, director of Public Health. “The need for public health professionals in our area has been recognized, allowing this program to start a year ahead of schedule.”

Brew said the program developers did their homework to ensure that the curriculum covers three emphasis areas with strong employability in the West Michigan area, which will provide opportunities for graduates.

“We have a pretty great need in the greater Grand Rapids area because there are only a handful of programs for public health, and none are on the west side of the state,” she said.

The program requires students to complete a minimum of 60-63 credits, with 33 core curriculum credits of public health courses and additional credits in one of three emphasis areas that students can choose from: epidemiology, health promotion or health administration. In addition to completing the required credits, students must also finish the 200-hour practicum experience, which can be done locally or abroad.

“There are a range of practicum options a student can partake in, whether it be local Grand Rapids or all the way to West Africa,” Brew said. “An international experience is not for every student so we’re offering it as an option. It’s just a really nice perk for students with a global interest in the field of public health.”

Katie Olson graduated from GVSU last spring with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and is one of the 37 students enrolled in the MPH program. Olson said having the option to complete her practicum experience abroad was a factor in her decision.

“I studied abroad during my undergrad and it was a great experience,” Olson said. “I am not sure if I am going to complete my practicum abroad, but I like having the option to do so.”

Olson said she is excited to begin the program and applied specifically for the epidemiology emphasis. While she may stay in the West Michigan area, Olson said she is open to anything.

“My undergraduate degree in biomedical science provides me with a great deal of knowledge about the human body and how different diseases can harm it,” Olson said. “In regard to public health, there are many important aspects, but my main goal is to help reduce the spread of disease. You cannot effectively stop the spread of a disease without understanding how various diseases spread and affect the body.”

Developers of the program partnered with individuals in the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to design the program’s curriculum.

“There are a handful of courses that are existing and being tailored to offer public health perspectives, but public health is a new program so the majority of these courses are new to the university,” Brew said.

The program will have three full-time professors in the first semester, with faculty from other departments teaching some courses, as well. The goal is to have nine full-time professors, who will be hired over the next three years, and enroll 60 students in the program, Brew said.

Though the MPH program isn’t accredited yet, Brew said the initial application for accreditation will be submitted in winter 2014 to the Council on Education for Public Health, which has accredited just over 100 public health programs and 50 schools in the nation.

“Accreditation is the gold standard that we strive for,” Brew said, mentioning that accreditation isn’t required for public health programs, but is highly sought after.

To gain admission to the program, students must complete their undergraduate degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, provide two letters of recommendation and submit a graduate application. Students with an undergraduate degree relating to health are preferred, but undergraduate degrees can really be in anything, Brew said.

“A student with a public health degree has widespread employability opportunities in the field from local, state, national and international positions at their fingertips upon graduation,” she said. “We are thrilled to offer prospective students a degree with such diversity in the workforce for employment.”