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8 February 2012

Public health program to become second in Florida

The school of nursing and health studies’ public health planning committee recently put the new bachelor of science in public health (BSPH) program in place.

The new program was only approved a month ago by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Deborah Paris, the associate dean responsible for student services at the school, said 80 percent of the seats have been filled.

Rosa Gonzalez Guarda, the chair of the committee, is leading the team that plans to start the program next semester.

Guarda said students in the program will be “addressing important public health issues locally and globally, such as the prevention of domestic violence, the prevention of HIV, addressing health disparities or inequities in health in racial ethnic groups and sexual orientation.”

The BSPH program is open to all students, including freshmen. It is not a nursing program. Admission requires a 3.5 GPA for incoming freshmen and 3.0 for transfer students.

Lecturer Diego de Leon, a physician from the Dominican Republic, is one of the six faculty members who developed the public health program.

De Leon, who also teaches at the school of nursing, said the new public health degree will help fill a much-needed void in South Florida for qualified health workers.

“South Florida’s community has the highest turnover rates for HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted diseases,” de Leon said.

The program will focus on helping students develop preventive strategies to help stop the transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Students will learn how to create those strategies in partnership with local agencies, such as the Miami-Dade County Health Department (MDCHD) hospitals, grassroots organizations and international organizations.

The MDCHD has played a major part in the public health program’s presence at UM. The department will provide students with internship opportunities in local hospitals and clinics. During their last year in the program, students will commit to servicing in the community through an agency or research.

UM is one of only two schools in Florida to offer a bachelor’s in public health and the only private school to offer it in southeast Florida.

The only other university in Florida offering such a program is the University of South Florida.

While the school already offers a minor in public health, Guarda and Leon said they have seen a great deal of interest in public health from students with backgrounds in business, engineering, biology, along with students in pre-med, pre-physical therapy, and pre-pharmacy as well.

“I have one student who is going to veterinary school and she is getting her bachelor’s in public health and then she is going to veterinary school,” Leon said.

Guarda added that the BSPH also would satisfy requirements for entry to medical school.

It will also help graduating students “find an entry-level job right away,” she said.

Brianne Neuberger, a junior majoring in health studies, wishes the new public health bachelor’s degree was offered when she first came to UM.

“I think it’s amazing that they are offering this degree because it gives a completely different aspect that med students don’t get,” Neuburger said.

Students will also get to travel abroad, including Chile, Spain and Taiwan as part of their international programs. There they will work with faculty and nurses in rural areas.

“We have parents calling us asking our department about international programs wanting their kids to go,” Leon said.

But according to Guarda and Leon, they expect to see an expansion into the program after a year.

“The next phase for the BSPH program is to have an accelerated pathway of completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public health in seven years,” Paris said.