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Public health doctorate approved by trustees

by Karen A. Grava - October 11, 2005

A new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in public health, with a concentration in social and behavioral health science, has been approved by the Board of Trustees.

The program will involve collaboration between the Storrs and Health Center campuses and the state Departments of Public Health and Mental Health and Addiction Services, as well as collaboration with other state, private, national, and international agencies.

“Qualified public health workers are in short supply in Connecticut, and these shortages adversely affect the capacity of our workforce to respond to emerging public health problems,” says Peter J. Nicholls, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“The need for workforce development is reflected both in personnel shortages and in the small proportion of the overall workforce with doctoral training in public health.”

Twenty-six senior faculty from Storrs and the Health Center will participate in the program, which will enhance the accredited master’s in public health offered by the Health Center.

The program hopes to accept students next fall, but the Board of Governors for Higher Education must approve it first.

The program is important, says Ann Ferris, professor of nutritional sciences, because during the last 100 years, communicable diseases, particularly those affecting children, have been displaced by chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease as the major causes of death in industrialized nations. Ferris is co-director of the Center for Public Health and Health Policy, which will administer the new program.

Dr. Susan Reisine, associate dean for research in the School of Dental Medicine, will serve as the social and behavioral health sciences concentration chair.

“During the past century, public health measures have had a remarkable effect on the health of populations throughout the world, thanks to sanitation and nutrition,” she says. “But we have entered an epidemiological transition that is driven by behavioral choices that have a direct impact on patterns of disease and illness. The effects of behavioral and lifestyle factors are intertwined with those of exposures to environmental and work-related physical and psychological stressors.”

Ferris says less than 15 percent of the public health workforce nationally has formal education in public health, and the workforce is rapidly aging.

“Doctorally trained leadership is needed,” she adds, “both to enhance the current public health workforce and in order to raise the skills of the future workforce.”

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