It’s no secret that the public health workforce has been facing dramatic staffing shortages over the past few years. Due to retirements and pandemic-based partings, there is an acute need for trained public health professionals to bolster the workforce. According to recent research, more than 40% of public health professionals left the field during the pandemic, and at least 80,000 workers are needed at state and local levels to support our country’s public health infrastructure.
To address this need, SPH conducted two years of feasibility analysis to prepare for the launch of the bachelor of arts (BA) degree program in public health this fall. The analysis found that for the last three years, the conferral of undergraduate degrees in public health has outpaced graduate degrees in the field; more people than ever are entering the public health workforce with an undergraduate degree. The analysis also uncovered that SPH is uniquely situated to train public health professionals as the state’s only school of public health with strong public and private health partnerships across Minnesota, along with the infrastructure, research, history, and academic experience unmatched by other regional schools.
“Providing governmental agencies with well-qualified candidates for entry-level positions in public health is a critical need. Graduates will be ready to hit the ground running.”Ruby Nguyen
“The primary role for the program is to provide a pathway directly into a public health career after attaining an undergraduate degree,” says Associate Professor Ruby Nguyen, director of undergraduate studies at SPH. “Providing governmental agencies with well-qualified candidates for entry-level positions in public health is a critical need. Graduates will be ready to hit the ground running.”
The junior-admitting degree program builds on SPH’s decade-long history of offering undergraduate programming in the public health minor, the second-largest minor at the University. The curriculum will provide students with a solid understanding of pressing public health challenges, ways to approach and combat health concerns, and the ability to influence societal structures that lead to poor health outcomes.
“Students should expect to learn the fundamentals of public health practice implemented in a way that can address social, racial, and political disparities,” Nguyen says. “Five core courses aimed at public health practice and public health equity make up the core curriculum.”
Students will also complete a capstone project that allows them to experience applied public health practice in communities and access undergraduate research opportunities and faculty advisors with strong connections in the field of public health.
Incoming BA student Tessa Jester enrolled in the program to gain a deeper perspective on the societal factors affecting health. “I feel passionately about working with the social determinants of health so people do not need to rely so heavily on direct health services, but can maintain a baseline health within the community they live in,” she says. Jester plans to double major in public health and nursing.
Students will join a network of more than 12,000 SPH alumni who provide support through mentorships, field experiences, career networking, and employment opportunities. In addition, they will have access to research opportunities within SPH, including applied internship programs with government and community organizations.
“I’m excited to learn skills and have experiences that I wouldn’t have had access to before going to graduate school.”Laura Landini
“I’m excited to learn skills and have experiences that I wouldn’t have had access to before going to graduate school,” says Laura Landini, a junior who will also join the first cohort of public health majors this fall. “Another aspect of the program that I think will help me advance my career is the advising team and the resources that I will have access to, like being able to learn from professors at SPH and ask questions of grad students.”
While students will be ready to launch their careers in public health directly after graduation, many plan to pursue a graduate degree to refine their knowledge base, such as public health major Kaylin Nesbitt, who plans to work in the field and gain experience before pursuing an MPH in epidemiology.
“Nothing has felt as rewarding as stepping into this ever-changing field,” says Nesbitt. “Public health is something I will be able to continue learning about, even after graduating.”
Ultimately, the undergraduate degree in public health will strengthen Minnesota’s public health infrastructure by expanding career opportunities for students who will be ready to enter into high-need, entry-level public health jobs with dreams of making a difference in their communities, nationally, and globally.