New online programs in public health address growing workforce demand

Three new online programs at the University of Nebraska will address a growing workforce demand for more public health professionals.

A Master of Science in emergency preparedness and professional certificates in public health and emergency preparedness can now be obtained fully online through the University of Nebraska’s Online Worldwide website. All are graduate-level programs offered by the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The programs aim to strengthen the public health workforce in order to meet the health needs of the U.S. and global populations. Both in Nebraska and nationally, many public health workers do not have formal education in the field, said Alice Schumaker, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of health services research and administration in the College of Public Health.

The Association of Schools of Public Health estimates that 250,000 more public health workers will be needed by 2020. In Nebraska, that need affects both rural and urban areas, Schumaker said. Compounding this challenge is the fact that 23 percent of the current U.S. public health workforce – almost 110,000 workers – are eligible to retire this year.

“Medical practice is conducted on an individual basis, but there are many areas related to health that are more population-based: prevention of epidemics, the need for clean water and good nutrition, anti-smoking and anti-obesity efforts, emergency management and others,” Schumaker said. “These are critical issues that must be advanced if we are to ensure a healthy population. Individuals trained in public health can help do this.”

The certificate in public health includes 18 credit hours (six courses) focused on the core areas of health behavior, environmental health, biostatistics, epidemiology, administration and global health. Students may be able to apply the coursework toward a master’s degree in public health.

The certificate is the only program of its kind in Nebraska. It is particularly geared toward:

  • Undergraduates in pre-health professional programs and students in science and medical tracks who wish to further their public health education.
  • Practicing public health workers who do not have formal education in public health and who wish to attain a professional credential.
  • Practicing health professionals (nurses, physicians, physician assistants, allied health professionals) who wish to broaden their knowledge of public health to improve their practice.

The certificate in emergency preparedness is also an 18-credit hour program. The federal Department of Homeland Security’s core focus areas – prevent, protect, respond and recover – form the structural basis for the program.

The Master of Science in emergency preparedness, a 36-credit hour program, is designed to teach professionals how to plan for and respond to events such as natural and man-made disasters, terrorist attacks or infectious disease threats. UNMC’s program is the first Master of Science degree program in emergency preparedness in the Midwest and one of only about 20 similar programs in the country.

Individuals must have a bachelor’s degree to participate in the program. It will appeal especially to those who work in emergency response environments, the healthcare field, public health departments, emergency medical services (EMS), private and non-profit agencies and organizations, the military and other venues, Schumaker said. People who serve as volunteer emergency response workers – as many rural Nebraskans do – may also find this formal training beneficial.

In addition to the Higher Learning Commission accreditation carried by all University of Nebraska degrees and certificates, the College of Public Health is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, the accrediting body for schools and programs of public health.

Online Worldwide is an initiative of the four University of Nebraska campuses that brings together more than 130 degree, certificate and endorsement programs offered via distance education, including programs in agriculture, education, engineering, business, health professions and more.

NU delivered nearly 109,000 credit hours online in 2010-11 – a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Almost 18,000 NU students, or about one-third of the total student body, took at least one course online last year, putting the university in line with national trends.

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