HATTIESBURG — For 17 years, the University of Southern Mississippi has been the only institution of higher learning in the state to offer an accredited master of public health (MPH) program, executive MPH program and undergraduate dual teaching licensure degrees in Mississippi. It is also the only university in the state to offer a dual degree option with the College of Business Administration, combining a MPH with an MBA.
“Within the short time of its existence, our program has graduated a number of students, including practicing physicians and other professionals who occupy leadership positions in public health within the state and private sectors,” said Emmanuel Ahua, HSD, an assistant professor of occupational health and safety/health education and graduate coordinator for the program.
“The MPH program came about because of the realization that Mississippi is faced with major public health issues more than many state in the nation and that the state must also deal with health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, environmental hazards, maternal and child health, nutrition and sexually transmitted diseases within the context of a largely poor, rural population,” said Ahua. “Secondly, there is need for training of qualified public health workers to participate in health program development, program evaluation, and program management to work with community health organizations in Mississippi to play significant roles in meeting the identified public health needs.”
Mississippi typically ranks at or near the top of such problems as access to healthcare, teen pregnancy and infant mortality. Unequal distribution of health services is another widespread problem. All community health organizations in Mississippi, both public and private, have significant roles to play in meeting these needs, Ahua pointed out.
“The mission of the MPH program is to prepare graduates for collaborative public health practice through instruction, research and community service, and thereby enhance the health of populations through organized community efforts, with primary emphasis on Mississippi and the Gulf South,” he said.
All applicants for the MPH degree program must have an undergraduate degree from a four-year college with a minimum GPA of 2.75. They must present accepted GRE scores prior to admission. Other requirements: three letters of recommendations and a written essay demonstrating their interest in public health.
The MPH degree consists of 45 credit hours of course work including a nine-credit hour, or 400 clock hours, internship. A minimum of 36 hours of course work may be approved by waiving the internship for those with terminal degrees from U.S. programs directly related to public health or with considerable experience, usually a minimum of three years, in the field of community health.
Students may choose one of three active emphasis areas offered in the MPH program: epidemiology and biostatistics, health education and health policy and administration. Emphasis areas not currently accepting students: occupational health and safety and public health nutrition.
“Basically, our students are prepared to assume leadership positions in their respective employment areas within specialized areas of emphasis they choose in the program,” said Ahua. “We’re happy to know that nearly all of our graduates are employed. When employed, they hold respectable positions. For example, some head local non-profit organizations, at least one is in a management position with the state Medicaid program. Several others work with the State Department of Health in areas such as epidemiology and other prevention programs. Others are employed as program directors with local community organizations. Two graduates went with federal government agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Mines Safety and Health Administration.”
On average, 45 students are enrolled in MPH courses at Southern Miss. However, the typical student has changed over the last few years, noted Ahua.
“Earlier on in the program, our typical student was a working professional who wished to take his or her career to another level,” he said. “During the past three years, we’re seeing more undergraduate students joining the program.”
To grow the program, the faculty within the Department of Community Health Services consistently receives more than $1 million in external funding every year.
“Mississippi has enormous need to improve the health of its residents,” said Ahua. “Knowing that the state ranks to the bottom in health and other categories, it’s imperative that we at least have individuals who are trained and well qualified to help administer programs that will make a difference. Secondly, a major population of Mississippi is underserved in public health, especially in the Delta. There aren’t enough programs personnel to create the impact that is needed. Thirdly, at the rate at which we are going, it’ll be very hard for the state to stay competitive with other states in the nation in dealing with public health issues.
“At the moment, our program is equipped with well qualified faculty in their own areas of specialization dedicated to the program. The faculty also creates a learning environment in which students have easy access and are comfortable.
Above all, the faculty is interested in making sure that every student graduates prepared with a good working knowledge of what they need to know. This has been demonstrated in our alumni surveys.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.