FORT SMITH — Officials at the Arkansas College of Health Education believe their new graduate degree program will strengthen the school’s curriculum and the health of the community.
The school announced Jan. 18 that the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditation organization, approved it to offer a master’s of public health degree, which it plans to begin in the fall of 2024. Students in the program will be able to specialize in nutrition or rural and community health.
The new program is designed to complement the school’s other graduate programs and provide opportunities for those working in public health to expand their academic credentials, according to a news release. The institution already has doctorate programs in osteopathic medicine, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, as well as a master’s program in biomedical sciences.
The program will also support community health and nutrition outreach involving the College’s Institute Health and Wellness Center.
“We are pleased to add this additional degree to our program because it aligns closely with ACHE’s mission of addressing the overall health and quality of life in our region,” President and CEO Kyle Parker said in the release. relevant.”
Benny Gooden, senior administrative assistant to the provost, said Monday that many public health programs are “in parallel” with other degree programs and are designed to help people better understand the environments in which they may work.
State of health
Elizabeth McLean, the school’s chief health officer and director of the new master’s program, said the college looked at what it could do to improve health outcomes in Arkansas when designing the program.
The United Health Foundation’s U.S. Health Rankings platform ranked Arkansas the 48th healthiest state in its 2022 report, ahead of only Mississippi and Louisiana. The ranking is based on scores across five categories of health indicators. These include:
• Social and economic factors: community and family safety, financial resources, education, and social support and participation.
• Physical environment: air and water quality as well as housing and transportation.
• Clinical care: Access to care, preventive clinical services and quality of care.
• Behavior: nutrition and physical activity, sexual health, sleep health, and smoking and tobacco use.
• Health outcomes: behavioral health, mortality and physical health.
High mortality rates, household food insecurity and smoking are among the health-related challenges facing Arkansas, the report said.
One of the main goals of the MPH program, McLean said, is to teach students how the social determinants of health — the conditions under which people are born, grow, work, live and age — affect health and figure out how to address them in individuals. “Gaps” created at the , community and population levels. Graduates can find employment in the health sector, health care organizations and public health policy, among other places.
McLean said the rural and community health focus in the school’s new degree program will help graduates understand how to help change public and health policy to advance the resources the population needs. Rural cultures are “very different” from urban cultures in how people live and where they live, and how they experience health and disease, including when they go to the hospital for preventive checkups, she said.
“If they’re in the field, they’re not going to rest,” McClain said. “We may have a nine-to-five job and we think that’s the way it works. If something happens, individuals don’t take the time to drive three hours to the hospital for some preventative checkups. Those types of things, we need Look at that, change the policy and make Access work well for what they need in their environment.”
Improving health literacy, or a person’s ability to understand and act appropriately based on the health care information provided to them, is also important, McLean said.
Blake Metcalf, director of clinical and community nutrition at the university, who will oversee the nutrition specialization in the public health degree, said the program will facilitate learning across disciplines, including physicians, dietitians and registered nurses .
The nutrition concentration will include a teaching kitchen through which people can learn how to prepare and find food in a hands-on setting.
“It’s a very unique experience, and we’re going to be able to bring that to this multidisciplinary team that I just described earlier, and hopefully create a new preventive, nutrition-conscious group that wants to take something a little different. general approach to practice medicine and health care,” Metcalfe said.
However, while the program’s in-person seminars will be held at the school’s Graduate School of Health and Wellness Center, much of the course content will be delivered online, allowing some flexibility for working health professionals, according to a press release.
“We’ll always have online opportunities, and in addition to the experiential stuff, like the teaching kitchen, we might have some workshops, and we really want to engage our students in activities that you wouldn’t get if you were online, experience it,” McLean said.
Students can also work on the program part-time or full-time, McLean said. Full-time students will be able to complete the program in two years; part-time students will have up to five years to complete their studies.
The curriculum, which is still being defined, will include 45 semester hours of instruction, according to McLean. This will include 24 hours of core instruction in which everyone in the program will attend, and 15 hours related to their chosen focus. Each student will also have three hours dedicated to an internship and capstone project designed to help the community.
The public health degree program will initially accommodate about 50 students, said Susan Devero, the college’s executive director of marketing, communications and community relations. She estimates tuition for the entire program at about $20,000.