Virginia Tech’s Public Health Program is celebrating a series of successes. It was awarded full accreditation in June from The Council on Education for Public Health. A month later, a history-making class of 13 Master of Public Health students graduated — the first since receiving the important quality assurance endorsement that comes with accreditation.
Housed in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, the program also has the distinction of being the first to be accredited at a veterinary college in the United States.
Established in 2010, the two-year professional degree program is the only one of its kind in southwest Virginia. It seeks to increase the number of public health professionals in southwest and southside Virginia, the Appalachian region, and beyond. The fledgling program is attracting both full-time students who recently completed an undergraduate degree and part-time, mid-career professionals. Some students also pursue simultaneous degrees in medicine, veterinary medicine, business, and other fields.
“Throughout the accreditation process, the program received tremendous support and input from students and faculty, including affiliated faculty from several Virginia Tech colleges,” said Dr. François Elvinger, head of the new Department of Population Health Sciences, which administers the program. “Receiving accreditation was the outcome of a true team effort led by Susan Marmagas, associate professor and assistant program director, and Laura Alexander, our accreditation coordinator. The great support from the college and central Virginia Tech administration, our partnership with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and community and stakeholder engagement across the region made this success possible.”
A big demand for public health degrees from students and the community is driving the program. “The Master of Public Health program is responding to needs identified by our community to serve the region,” said Kerry Redican, professor and associate program director.
Students complete 42 credit hours and choose between one of two concentrations: infectious disease or public health education. The program also embraces One Health, an interdisciplinary approach that integrates human, animal, and environmental health.
Student capstone projects to date have dealt with a wide range of public health issues, such as flu vaccination in schools and communities, Salmonella at animal shelters, parasites in the environment that affect humans and animals, group prenatal visits at WIC clinics, hepatitis C distribution and risk in the New River Valley, diabetes in Virginia’s Hispanic community, and adolescent smoking in Roanoke.
“The Master of Public Health program has already expanded capacity to address local and regional public health needs,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell, director of the New River Valley Health District, headquartered in Christiansburg. “We are very excited to have a fully accredited public health program in the area.”
Program administrators are also making sure that Virginia youth are exposed to the growing public health field. Its second annual “Let’s Talk Public Health” summer camp was held on the Virginia Tech campus July 25-28. Designed for high school juniors and seniors, the camp focused on topics such as obesity, infectious diseases, emergency preparedness, and social determinants of health. Approximately 50 students from all regions of the state participated.
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