It is an exciting time to consider the Public Health Sciences major at UMass Amherst. The nation—and the world—is at a critical juncture regarding public health, and students who are passionate about making the world a better place have an important role to play.
In 2008, the Association of Schools of Public Health announced that more than 250,000 additional public health workers will be needed by 2020. Natural disasters, poverty, food safety, and the globalization of infectious diseases are constant challenges. In addition, health behaviors and lifestyle issues—such as smoking, dietary choices, and sedentary living—have a negative impact on a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Finally, to assure equity and access for the well-being of all citizens, those knowledgeable in policy and economics are urgently needed.
The expanding field of Public Health plays a crucial role in dealing with these problems, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst undergraduate major in Public Health is in a unique position to help students become future public health educators, policy makers, and researchers.
Since 2007, when the Massachusetts Board of Education approved the UMass Amherst undergraduate Public Health Sciences major, the program has grown to over 434 students (as of Fall 2013). I can say from my experience as undergraduate program director that the students who choose to enter the program are dedicated, impassioned, and concerned over the future of our nation and planet. As the only accredited School of Public Health in New England to offer an undergraduate public health major, UMass Amherst is on the cutting edge of a national initiative to educate all undergraduates in broad-based knowledge of public health science.
The major was designed, like the field of public health itself, as an interdisciplinary program. The science of epidemiology and biostatistics, community health education, health management and policy, and environmental health all play important roles in keeping our society healthy. Consequently, our definition of public health encompasses all these critical areas: Public Health is the art and science of protecting and improving the health of a community through an organized and systematic effort that includes education, assurance of the provision of health services, and protection of the public from exposures that will cause harm. Students in the Public Health Sciences program clarify their professional interests as they develop their own program within the parameters of the degree requirements. The B.S. in Public Health Sciences can lead to entry-level positions within the health and human services field, teaching health in the public school system, or graduate studies in the Public Health and Health Sciences field.
The two tracks within the major – the Social Science track and the Science track – are tailored to serve various study and career trajectories. Both tracks include eight required public health courses as well as other courses from the fields of social and physical sciences. Both tracks allow flexibility and encourage exploration of a variety of public health science areas. Because the field of public health is interdisciplinary and broad by nature, students are expected to proactively explore where they fit into the field.
This is accomplished by taking a wide variety of courses and participating in internships, community service projects, studying abroad, getting involved in the public health club and other activities offered through the program.
In this process of self-discovery students ask big questions: What kind of public health professional do I want to become? Do I want to work in health research? Do I want to work on creating health policies to support our society to be healthier? Maybe I want to work in the medical field (as a doctor, nurse, physician's assistant, etc.) and an undergraduate degree will help launch me on this journey. Maybe I’d like to work in communities—here in the U.S., or abroad—educating people to live healthier lives. How can I serve? And how can I take advantage of the opportunities that UMass Amherst uniquely offers?
The public health field is broad and exciting, and our program is designed to help students answer these questions, offering courses and encouraging exploration of experiential learning to support developing interests and educational goals. We offer innovative group and peer advising that encourages students to learn from their peers, and helps develop a rich and supportive community.
Wishing you health,
Gloria DiFulvio, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Program Director, Public Health Sciences
School of Public Health and Health Sciences
University of Massachusetts Amherst