Wingate’s new bachelor of science and master’s programs in public health kicked off this month, as the University continues to meet community needs, matching program offerings with fast-growing careers that contribute to the common good.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) gave its approval for the programs in June, and Wingate welcomed its first cohorts of undergraduate and master’s public health students in late August.
Those students are studying for careers in a growing field. Even before Covid-19 swept across the nation in the spring of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was forecasting a 16 percent increase in the number of jobs for health educators and community health workers between 2016 and 2026. In the same time frame, the Bureau predicted a 9 percent increase in the number of jobs for epidemiologists and a 20 percent jump in the number of jobs for health services managers.
“This is a perfect example of why we call ourselves a laboratory of difference-making, where students’ enthusiasm for learning intersects with faculty expertise and the broader needs of society,” says Dr. Rhett Brown, Wingate University president. “It was July of 2019 when two faculty members shared their research on the need for these programs, and now, two years later, we’re thrilled to roll these out as additional and complementary offerings to our already strong stable of health science programs.”
Dr. Suzanne Wolf, one of those two faculty members, who has since been tapped to lead the University’s Department of Public Health, says it’s an important field that is often overlooked.
“Sometimes we forget about public health or don’t fully understand what it encompasses, because we’re so focused on direct patient care,” she says. “But public health takes a larger look and answers the big questions: How are we going to improve health outcomes for large groups of people in our communities? What is causing infectious diseases and chronic illnesses within our community? What factors of where we live, learn, work and play are affecting us at such a personal level?”
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought public health to the forefront.
“There’s no better time than now for us to focus on public health,” Wolf says. “And we strongly feel that here at Wingate University we are serving the societal need to educate future public health professionals who will ultimately help solve problems which Covid-19 has shed light on.”
Wingate’s bachelor’s program features an interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on the biological and social sciences, health promotion and statistics. Classes are being taught by graduate health sciences professors and undergraduate liberal arts faculty.
Dr. Shanta Dube, named director of the Master of Public Health program in February, has developed a flexible online curriculum designed to meet the needs of working professionals as well as bachelor’s degree students looking to take advantage of Wingate’s 4+1 MPH fast track.
“The beauty of the MPH program at Wingate is that it takes an integrated-curriculum approach with a focus on health education and promotion as a specific concentration,” she says. “Students are going to get everything in their courses, from epidemiology to environmental health to data science, understanding how to collect, analyze and apply data to address pressing public health issues. They will have an opportunity to interact with other health professions students. They’re also going to learn about health policy and gain skills to be future public health practitioners. And because of this, they will have a wide array of opportunities coming out of the program.”
The health education and promotion emphasis is one thing that attracted student Donna Davis to the program.
“With my MPH degree, I hope to pursue a career where I can advocate for vital health improvements that need to be made within the healthcare system and to help promote awareness for improving health behaviors,” says Davis, who earned her bachelor of science degree in psychology from Wingate in May. She said that even before the pandemic, she saw a need for people to better understand their own health and that of those around them.
The online format of Wingate’s program includes mostly asynchronous classes for maximum flexibility but also some synchronous evening sessions to ensure interaction with faculty and peers.
“The asynchronous manner of the public-health classes allows students to self-direct their learning, but we also have live virtual meetings with the instructors that allow them to interface with the other students and the public health faculty,” says Dube, who came to Wingate with more than two decades of public health experience, including award-winning work on the landmark CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and on national tobacco surveillance programs.
“In addition to our asynchronous courses, the MBA program is going to deliver two synchronous courses, and that’s going to allow our students to have that interdisciplinary, interprofessional experience with the business school, where they’ll be focusing on healthcare organization and management.”
To best prepare students for a wide range of public health opportunities, the second year of the master’s program features an applied practicum and integrative learning experience. Dr. Olabisi Badmus, director of medical and community partnerships for the public health program, will work closely with students – whether in the region or across the nation – to help them identify appropriate organizations and field-work opportunities that align with their interests.
“It may be something where, for example, they’re working with an organization that is implementing an obesity-prevention program,” she says. “It may be assisting in either implementing that program, evaluating that program, or it may be a program where you’re out in the community working directly with community members helping educate the population about obesity prevention.
“It’s exciting to be able to actually get into the environments to get hands-on experience and figure out what works and what doesn’t work, based on the resources you have and the settings you’re working with.”
Both public health degrees – bachelor’s and master’s – require fieldwork to be completed in conjunction with community organizations.
To smooth the pathway toward the master’s degree, Wingate has developed a 4+1 track whereby qualified students will take a combination of undergrad and graduate courses during their fourth year and graduate with their MPH in a total of five years. Abbreviated pathways are also being explored for Wingate’s other graduate health science programs so students can potentially add an MPH without spending two more years in the classroom.
Freshman Rebecca Faust of Gastonia plans to pursue a career as a physician assistant and believes studying public health will give her a strong foundation.
“The most interesting thing about the public health major at Wingate is the diversity of the required courses. It was very important that I picked a major that would allow me to complete all the prerequisite courses needed to apply for PA school,” Faust says. “The public health major incorporates many of these along with other interesting courses that cover topics such as epidemiology, healthcare management, ethics and social sciences.”
Aug. 26, 2021