Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors has approved a new Master of Public Health degree program that will be based in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and operated as a collaborative program with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

The State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) will now review the program and pending approval, students could begin enrolling by fall 2010, according to Dr. François Elvinger, a veterinary epidemiologist and professor in the veterinary college’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

The nation is facing a critical shortage of trained public health professionals coinciding with a period of substantially increased risks, according to Elvinger. These are related to food safety and to the emergence and expansion of zoonotic infectious disease agents such as currently circulating avian and swine influenza viruses, he said, as well as to chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, obesity, and the way we build our communities.

“There is no doubt that acute public health workforce shortages need to be addressed in Southwest Virginia, Virginia, the United States, and beyond,” said Elvinger, who is working closely with Kerry Redican, professor of education in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and Susan West Marmagas, assistant director for public health program development.

“Public health needs in Southwest Virginia are significant,” said Redican. “Residents of this region die more often from preventable diseases and injuries, and serious health deficits and disparities that affect individual well-being, and the economic viability of communities recently have been documented for Southwest Virginia and the Appalachian region.”

“In the United States, the public health workforce has been shrinking in the last decades, and an additional quarter-million public health workers need to be trained and deployed by 2020 to ensure appropriate capacity in public health,” said Marmagas, adding that the Association of Schools of Public Health stated, in a 2008 report entitled “Confronting the Public Health Workforce Crisis,” that the graduation rate of schools and programs of public health must be tripled over the next 12 years to meet demand.

The proposed 42 credit-hour program will offer concentrations in Public Health Education and Infectious Disease and will admit 40 students per class. Projected students include those seeking admission with a bachelor’s degree, medical students from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, and veterinary students from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine who can pursue the Master of Public Health degree conjointly with their doctor of medicine and doctorate of veterinary medicine degrees, as well as mid-career health professionals.

The curriculum will include biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health services administration, health behavior, and specific courses in the areas of concentration. The program is also expected to generate a number of instructional, research, and outreach partnerships between Virginia Tech and community and national health agencies.

“The development of this new degree program is another example of growing collaboration between human and veterinary medicine,” noted the college’s dean, Gerhardt Schurig, who is a member of the board of directors of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “We live in an age in which physicians and veterinarians must work more closely together than ever before in order to protect public health.”

In June 2007, the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association passed a resolution calling for greater cooperation between physicians and veterinarians, Schurig noted, and allied health professions such as human and veterinary medicine are embracing the concepts of “One World, One Health, One Medicine” as they take an integrated approach to controlling infectious and other diseases that reach across all species and the globe and work at the interface of human, animal, and environmental health.

“We have many areas of collaboration with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine,” Schurig said. “In many ways the relationship between our veterinary and our new medical school is a symbol of what is happening with the national and international professions.”

Share this story