Virginia Tech will launch a new Master of Public Health program this month as the United States and, in particular, Southwest Virginia and the greater Appalachian region face a critical shortage of trained public health professionals.

The 42-credit professional degree program, which offers concentrations in public health education and infectious disease, integrates and significantly expands public health opportunities at the university. The program is administered through the new Population Health Sciences Department in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and was developed in collaboration with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

“Working together with colleagues from across the university and from the new medical school, we have put in place a cohesive program that will provide the advanced skills and expertise necessary to join the public health workforce,” said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine board of directors. “Physicians, veterinarians, and other health professionals must work together more closely than ever in order to protect public health.”

In 2007, the American Medical Association passed a resolution calling for greater cooperation between physicians and veterinarians. The new program is an example of the benefits of this cooperation, said Dr. Cynda Ann Johnson, founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

“The [Master of Public Health] program draws the medical school and the university closer together through collaboration with physicians who specialize in infectious disease or have [Master of Public Health] degrees themselves,” said Johnson.

Dr. François Elvinger, a professor in the veterinary college’s Department of Population Health Science, and Kerry Redican, a professor from Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, will co-direct the Master of Public Health program. Susan West Marmagas serves as assistant director.

“Our nation faces great health challenges resulting from increasing rates of preventable conditions like diabetes and obesity, health disparities related to poverty and ethnicity, and the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases at the human-animal-environment interface,” said Elvinger. “Maintaining a sufficiently large and appropriately trained public health workforce is paramount to the health of everyone.”

This fall’s inaugural class is comprised of 36 students, with an additional 11 veterinary students starting their Master of Public Health coursework in the spring. The class brings a wealth of experience from public health in the New River Valley and southwest Virginia, and from disciplines in medicine, nursing, biology, nutrition, veterinary medicine, food science, psychology, sociology, and recreational sports.

The program is designed to accommodate full-time students, working mid-career professionals, and simultaneous degree students with a combination of daytime, evening, and online course offerings.

The curriculum includes biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, public health administration, health behavior, and specific courses in the areas of concentration.

The program is also expected to generate a number of instructional, research, and outreach partnerships between Virginia Tech and health organizations and agencies. 

Prospective students for Fall 2011 must submit their application by Jan. 15, 2011. More information can be found online.

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