On Aug. 25, Drake University released a statement announcing that the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences would be launching a new public health major.
Health Sciences Department chair and associate professor Cassity Guiterrez said that previously, the public health classes at Drake were combined with the health administration major in CPHS. Gutierrez said the new major will separate these two fields of study.
“We really wanted something that allowed it to be exclusively public health and to get all of the competencies needed to be a public health professional,” Gutierrez said.
According to the Drake website, the major requirements will consist of a minimum of 24 credits in the Drake Curriculum, or general electives, and a minimum of 12 credits in professional electives. The suggested four-year plan outlines a total of 124 credits.
“Students pursuing the public health major complete courses that promote and support individual and community health and well-being,” the press release said. “They will develop the critical thinking and analytic skills necessary to address topics such as access to health care, health promotion, disease prevention, health disparities, health economics, health policy, and others.”
Gutierrez also emphasized that students in the new program will still be actively involved in other CPHS programs, adding that public health needs “to be part of that healthcare team that we talk about.” She said that a wide variety of students can participate in this program. Aside from those who want to work in public health fields post-graduate, Gutierrez said she could also see students with this major going on to medical school.
“I could also see a future clinician doing this as their undergrad,” Gutierrez said. “They would have to make sure in the elective areas that they’re adding all the sciences they need, but I would think someone going through this would be really intentionally doing something in healthcare.”
Gutierrez said that one of her goals is to create a program where students can earn their undergraduate degree in public health and then their master’s degree in an abbreviated time frame. However, she said the first step is for the new program to be accredited as a stand-alone bachelor’s program by the Council on Public Health.
“But what we did when we designed it was we made sure that it aligned with the competencies that we were going to need to have when we submit for accreditation,” Gutierrez said. “So to make sure that our classes were addressing those core competencies of public health professionals that they want to be in any type of program that will eventually hopefully get the accreditation.”
One of the main focuses when developing the public health major was avoiding incurring new costs for the university. According to Gutierrez, there were already classes in CPHS and across campus that would fit into the public health major, especially from the already established Global and Comparative Public Health concentration.
“We wouldn’t want to do anything or add anything that cost the university money over the long run because then we’re taking tuition dollars from students and putting it towards a program that’s not generating and helping to pay for some of the other university services that are provided to all students,” CPHS dean and professor Renae Chesnut said.
Chesnut said that part of the inspiration for the new major came from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has raised awareness about public health issues and careers.
“Something about the pandemic is that it did raise the awareness in society about what someone might do with a public health degree,” Chesnut said. “A lot of times in some of our professions we have to do a lot of education of potential students about what you can do with a career. And we’ll still have to do that with public health because it’s so broad and varied, but the pandemic has raised the level of understanding of not only what public health is, but the importance of public health.”