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Curriculum committee gives green light for Master’s in Public Health degree

Thanks to approval by the Graduate and Professional School Curriculum Committee last month, USC will begin offering a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree starting this fall.

The degree will be administered through USC’s Institute for Heath Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR) and will allow students to follow one of three tracks: health promotion, biometry/epidemiology or nutrition.

USC has no School of Public Health, and the purpose of the program is “to train practitioners in public health,” notes C. Anderson Johnson, director of the IPR. “We’re building on our strengths in funding and research in health promotion and epidemiology and the newly developed programs in preventive nutrition.”

Several medical students as well as faculty have already inquired about the degree, he said, and discussions are underway for developing a joint M.D./MPH program. Faculty, students and staff from other health sciences programs including biokinesiology and physical therapy, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing have expressed interest.

Another future development, he added, might be designing an accelerated B.S./MPH program for undergraduates majoring in health promotion.

Students will be required to take 42 units and those who opt to study full-time should be able to complete the degree in two years. A longer, part-time track will be available for students who want to complete the degree while continuing to work.

The Public Health program will eventually accommodate anywhere from 30-50 students, said Johnson.

A masters in public health would appeal to “somebody who wants to do program design and evaluation for a local, state or federal public agency, applied biostatistics or epidemiology, or if who have someone who’s already a physician or registered dietitian who wants to have a role beyond a clinical practice,” said Johnson. “Increasingly, people with MPH training are sought for health programming in the corporate and non-profit sectors.”

The program will be positioned “not only to serve southern California but also the Pacific Rim,” said Johnson. “We’ll be developing relationships with health ministries and health departments in other countries to bring outstanding people here to study.”

The Masters in Public Health will combine teaching skills from the IPR, the School of Public Administration and the Departments of Preventive Medicine and Cell and Neurobiology.

The committee also formally approved the new Masters in Preventive Nutrition, which will be a joint program offered by the Institute for Prevention Research and the Department of Cell and Neurobiology at the School of Medicine and administered through Cell and Neurobiology.

That degree program, said Carol Koprowski, coordinator of the nutrition program, “is really geared towards people who are working in the field who want graduate level training. It’s a very translational program-how do you take what’s going on in research and put it into practice.”

The program will emphasize how to encourage lifestyle changes, especially if a person or community doesn’t want to make the changes. “The IPR has classes on behavioral theory and on compliance issues, but those are geared for doing research,” she said. “We are hoping at the master’s level to bridge research and application.”

USC formerly offered a masters in nutrition program, but that degree was put on hiatus when its leading researcher left.

Thanks to the combined interests of the IPR and the Department of Cell and Neurobiology, said Koprowski, “the nutrition degree program here is alive today.”

The new Master’s in Preventive Nutrition already has three students enrolled, she said. “When they called, we explained that program is undergoing a change, but they wanted to enroll anyway.”

Curriculum committee gives green light for Master’s in Public Health degree

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