Uncovering the mystery that is Public Health

Abigail Winternitz

At Kent State, there are multiple areas of study in medical and health fields and many of those health fields fall under the College of Public Health (CPH).

CPH works to prepare students at all stages of their careers to work in the public health industry.

But what does public health actually mean? Defining public health is not easily done, said Ken Slenkovich, assistant dean of Operations and Community Relations

“Unfortunately, there’s not really a simple definition of public health,” said Slenkovich. “It’s a very broad field.”

Slenkovich said the goal of public health is to improve the health of the community, rather than the individual. This community can be anything from a city to a country or a demographic.

“Different populations have different health needs,” said Slenkovich. “Public health brings together many health fields and disciplines to figure how to we improve the health of those people. The community is our patient.”

CPH covers 15 undergraduate majors and concentrations, four masters programs and three doctoral programs. The college consists of three departments: Health Policy and Management (HPM), Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology (BEHSE).

Health Policy and Management

The Department of HPM works to help enforce the health decisions that have been made observing behaviors and collecting data. This is done by generating policies at the local, state and federal level, said Christopher Woolverton, to interim chair of HPM.

“Our goal is that once we’ve identified a specific problem in a health related field, we can influence how that problem is solved,” said Woolverton. “This is done by mandating specific actions.”

Ken Zakariasen, associate dean and professor in the HPM said the department is made up of two components: leadership and management.

“All of the students in our department learn basic science skills, and then move on to management and leadership programs,” said Zakariasen. “We’re teaching them to aim for consistent standards in whatever field they work in after graduation – which is the management side – and how to decide what those standards should be, which is the leadership side.”

HPM offers two options for undergraduates: allied health – which allows a student to apply the learning they received from their licensure to the Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Health Services Administration – is designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in healthcare management.

The department also offers a masters of public health in health policy, which trains students to address public health risks and develop effective health services delivery models, as well as a Ph.D. in public health specializing in health policy and management at Kent State, which works to prepare students for a career in public health research.

“Health Policy and Management offers the opportunity for students to get into the implementation side of public health,” said Woolverton. “This includes creating and implementing health policies at the local, state and federal level.”

Social and Behavioral Sciences

The Department of SBS works to provide training that focuses on developing expertise in individual and community health behavior and prevention science.

It also focuses on the influences of social context and behavior on health—all with the aim of developing, evaluating and implementing solutions to pressing public health challenges.

The department offers two concentrations for undergraduate students: a health promotion and education concentration, which works to prepare students to help individuals and communities achieve optimal health through educational strategies. The other is community-based public health concentration, which has students engage in practices to eliminate health disparities through the community.

The department also offers two graduate programs –– a master’s of public health in social and behavioral sciences. It works to show students an interdisciplinary understanding of the theoretical basis of health behavior in populations across the course of life and a Ph.D. in public health specializing in prevention science, which prepares students for careers in public health research that demand interdisciplinary skills to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing discipline.

Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology

Students in the Department of BEHSE focus on preventing disease by looking at statistics, environmental changes, causes and existing disease, along with data research, said BEHSE chair Mark James.

“This department covers a vast number of disciplines,” said James. “However, one of our main focuses as a department is finding social determinants of health, which will prolong a person’s life and keep a person healthy.”

BEHSE includes three of the five disciplines of public health.

Biostatistics focuses on the mathematics side of illness prevention and control by looking at data analysis in fields, including research, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies.

Epidemiology focuses on the branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

“Epidemiology is really the cornerstone of public health,” says James. “Everyone needs an epidemiologist. It’s one of the most flexible disciplines in public health, and it has one of the strongest job demands.”

Environmental Health Sciences looks at environmental factors that cause disease and possible solutions to help community health.

The department offers undergraduates several concentrations within these three disciplines: Environmental and occupational health, global health, pre-medicine and environmental health sciences. The master’s program offers some concentrations including biostatistics, epidemiology and environmental health sciences.

The department also offers a doctoral program in epidemiology, which prepares students to design and implement studies as well as use advanced quantitative methods to examine critical and emerging health issues.

Jobs After Graduation

There are many broad and diverse health fields public health students can go to find work after graduation, said Slenkovich.

“A problem that we frequently face in the college is that since a lot of students coming into the University don’t know what public health is. They’re also not aware of just how many well paying careers there are in this area,” said Slenkovich. “Which, there are a lot.”

Sonia Alemagno, the dean of CPH, said job prospects for Kent State public health students are particularly impressive.

“Our students have gotten jobs with organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic, Summit County Health Department, Medical Mutual and the Ohio Department of Health, just to name a few,” said Alemagno. “We’re very proud of our students who are putting their academic training to good use helping these organizations address some of the major health problems facing our communities.”

For more information about CPH, its programs, and potential job opportunities, log on to https://www.kent.edu/publichealth

Abigail Winternitz is the College of Public Health reporter, contact her at [email protected]