A professional approach to public health

The University Trustees have approved the creation of a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree that will be Penn’s first university-wide professional degree program. The new degree is the culmination of a three-year process that required the collaborative effort of eight schools: the School of Medicine, which administers the program and offers the degree, and the schools of Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Education, Nursing, Social Work, Veterinary Medicine and Wharton. The new program was developed under the leadership of Shiriki Kumanyika, associate dean for health promotion and disease prevention and professor of epidemiology in the School of Medicine.

Although there are currently more than 80 MPH programs nationwide, the Penn program is designed primarily as a mid-career supplement for professionals pursuing degrees in both clinical and non-clinical healthcare fields. The interschool model has been used for research training at Penn, but until now professional degrees have usually been confined to one school. The goal is to fill a gap that has existed for both faculty working in public-health-related areas and students who want a MPH credential in addition to another professional degree. The new program creates a common thread of public health concerns that can be addressed across the University.

“Public health is an inherently interdisciplinary field,” explains Kumanyika. “Its mission is to undertake a systemic approach to the physical, mental and environmental health concerns of communities and populations and promote a holistic view rather than a focus on individuals.”

Research on national public health priorities, including obesity, substance abuse, environmental quality, access to healthcare, responsible sexual behavior, immunizations and bioterrorism, are already underway at Penn. Even before the new program was officially launched, Kumanyika, along with other Penn faculty, students and research staff, attended a the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting. Nearly 70 abstracts from Penn were on the program. At the Penn booth, just a small sample of existing public health-related programs were featured, including the School of Medicine’s Center for Inner City Health, which focuses on obesity-related health disparities, TraumaLink at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Center for Community Partnerships’ Urban Health Initiative.

The program has already enrolled its first student, Joel Fine, an associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine at CHOP, and offered its first course, Introduction to Public Health, in the Fall 2002 semester.

Originally published on January 30, 2003