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In response to the growing interest in public health careers among younger generations and the need for a more diverse and community-focused public health workforce, the University of Pittsburgh is officially launching an undergraduate program for students seeking a career in public health.
The inaugural class will matriculate in fall 2022, and applications have already greatly exceeded expectations.
“Our school has a long history of preparing generations of public health leaders committed to protecting the health of our communities, and we are extremely excited to welcome a new cadre of emerging undergraduate scholars,” said Maureen Lichtveld, dean and Jonas Salk Professor of Population Health at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. “We’ve already received more than 800 applications from graduating high school seniors locally, regionally and internationally interested in our program. The COVID-19 pandemic, undeniable health inequities and global climate change have clearly sparked a passion for public health among the next generation.”
Students in the new program will major in public health, completing coursework locally and abroad led by faculty at Pennsylvania’s first fully accredited school of public health while also fulfilling 120 service hours, learning from and collaborating with community leaders to resolve real-world health threats.
Pitt Public Health, as it is informally known, is a research powerhouse that consistently ranks among the top recipients of National Institutes of Health funding. While clinicians, such as nurses and physicians, focus on treating individuals, public health professionals apply quantitative, social and biological science tools — tools from almost every field of science — to counter health threats to entire populations in a data-driven, transdisciplinary fashion.
“We are eager to have undergraduate students collaborating with our graduate student population,” said Ada Youk, assistant dean of academic affairs and associate professor of biostatistics at Pitt Public Health. “We designed the program to provide students with a broad overview of the core public health disciplines and an opportunity to shape the curriculum according to their interests and passions.”
Program core courses were part of a “soft launch” in the fall of 2021, and 133 existing undergraduate students from across Pitt participated. The inclusion of an “Essentials of Health Equity: Exploring Social and Structural Determinants of Health” course as a Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) degree core requirement is unique to the Pitt program. It highlights the program’s commitment to addressing health inequities necessary for promoting health and well-being across all populations and communities.
“Students are coming to us with such enthusiasm and passion for solving today’s most pressing public health issues,” added Mara Leff, director of undergraduate curriculum at Pitt Public Health. “The future of the field of public health looks brighter with this incoming cohort of young people.”
A BSPH degree can be an entry-level requirement for many careers, including for community health specialists who do contact tracing investigations for infectious diseases, quality improvement coordinators who manage data to enhance public health programs, public health administrators who plan and implement disease prevention programs and research assistants who work in laboratories to help answer health-related questions. It also provides a strong foundation for students who seek to pursue a graduate-level education in medicine and nursing, as well as dental, rehabilitation and pharmacological sciences and a host of other areas of professional study with a human health focus, such as biomedical engineering, sustainability and social work.
“In a traditional health care team in the hospital, you don’t often see public health professionals or people who have come to this work with a public health perspective,” said Jonathan Yasin, a current BSPH student who plans to go to medical school after completing his undergraduate degree. “I feel like this program is an amazing opportunity for an undergraduate. Not only am I getting clinical experience for medical school, I am also seeing medicine through a public health and social justice lens.”
— Allison Hydzik