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Emily Brennan no longer looks at the idea of health as simply seeing a doctor when she's sick. She said she sees public health as being concerned with preventing health risks and conditions at the population level, encompassing an endless variety of factors from nutrition to environment, to policies coming from the federal government.
Brennan, a senior in animal sciences in the College of Agriculture, is one of the first Auburn University students to complete the College of Veterinary Medicine's undergraduate minor in public health. Housed in the Department of Pathobiology, the program was introduced in 2010 and the first cycle of required courses for the minor was completed last summer.
The minor includes faculty from 12 departments on campus and includes three required courses: Introduction to Public Health; Introduction to Epidemiology, which is taught by College of Veterinary Medicine faculty Jim Wright and Jim Wenzel; and Global and Comparative Health Systems taught by Rene McEldowney of the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts. Students must also take an elective course as well as a three-hour experiential learning program, which may be fulfilled by 20-40 hours of participation in service learning or practicum.
Kenneth Nusbaum, professor emeritus and program coordinator, and Frank "Skip" Bartol, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Veterinary Medicine, worked to establish the minor, which is the first of its kind in the state of Alabama. The program is also closely aligned with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"Establishment of the undergraduate public health minor, through the leadership of Dr. Ken Nusbaum, is a landmark event for the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. I was privileged to assist Dr. Nusbaum in formulating aspects of the curriculum and facilitating the process required for it to be approved as a minor at Auburn," Bartol said.
The minor's introductory course consists of 15 lectures given by 13 different lecturers on topics ranging from cholera and yellow fever to public health law.
"What we have been able to do is pull in faculty from many colleges on campus and experts from off campus to tell our students, in the Introduction to Public Health, that Auburn faculty are deeply involved in public health research and that it is a vast and dynamic field," Nusbaum said.
The courses examine public health on the local, national and global levels. In the introductory course, there is an emphasis on problems of the state of Alabama like obesity, diabetes and infant mortality. For example, there are two back-to-back lectures on obesity, each presenting two contrasting beliefs – a professor in the Nutrition and Food Science program in the College of Human Sciences talks about nutritional obesity, while a professor from the Department of Kinesiology in the College of Education talks about inactivity obesity.
Nusbaum said the minor is not limited to students in health fields like nursing and medicine, but can also benefit those in majors like engineering, agriculture and sociology.
"If you want to be a dentist or a nurse, or a physician or veterinarian, and on your application it says a minor in public health, that's pretty slick," he said. "But, if you're a sociologist or a nutritionist or a civil engineer or a pharmacist or an architect, and you can say, 'I have some familiarity with ideas about public health and measuring impact,' then I think that's a great gateway. That first class in particular is structured to bring together as many students from as many disciplines as we can master."
"Historically, this is the first curriculum for undergraduates to be offered by the AU-CVM," Bartol explained. "The interdisciplinary nature of the program serves to engage faculty and students from across the campus, increases the visibility of our college and further integrates AU-CVM academics with the broader institutional mission. We expect that students enrolled in the public health minor will develop new perspectives relative to the nature and importance of public health disciplines and the impact of public health programs at local, national and international levels. Along the way, of course, we hope that students enrolled in this minor will envision career opportunities in public health that can be pursued through advanced clinical and graduate training in veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences."
Nusbaum said they are also addressing class scheduling, making it easier for students to complete the minor in a timely manner.
"I have been told that there's a problem for undergrads completing a minor because our core is so large and they simply don't have time," he explained. "In order to address that, we hope to teach all three courses back-to-back at the college in the summer."
So far, the classes are making an impact on students, who say they are surprised by the array of topics that tie in to public health. Some students have realigned majors and are even applying to graduate school in public health.
"The result of everyone's contribution is a class that is remarkable to faculty for its breadth and to students for getting to see firsthand the work of the faculty and the complexity of the discipline," Nusbaum said.
"I've enjoyed being able to complete the minor in such a short period of time while still getting classes done for my major," said Brennan. "Actually, the minor has dramatically changed my perspective and broadened my view of science and medicine. I was already leaning toward graduate school, but it was a factor in my decision to definitely pursue it."
For more information on the minor in public health, go to http://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/academics/public-health-minor.
Last Updated: Feb. 9, 2012