State board approves UTA’s undergraduate public health degree

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has approved the creation of a bachelor’s degree in public health at UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation effective fall 2017. The comprehensive program will include the introduction of a graduate certificate in public health.

Last fall UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation began offering undergraduate public health courses within the exercise science degree program as part of an effort to meet a rising nationwide demand for healthcare professionals.

More than 200 students have taken public health courses since the program was introduced. The college has hired several full and part-time faculty members. It plans to expand the program in the fall by offering classes at UTA Fort Worth and a graduate certificate in public health practice on the UTA campus. The graduate certificate will be expanded into a master’s degree in public health in fall 2018.

Unlike the majority of public health degrees in Texas, UTA’s program has an urban focus and is designed to produce a public health workforce that mirrors the state’s demographics. Rebecca Garner, a clinical assistant professor of kinesiology and the coordinator of the public health program, said the new degree is uniquely positioned to draw on the resources of the university and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to enhance the students’ classroom experience.

“One of our goals is to help build a more competent public health workforce and develop folks who can work in a culturally competent manner,” said Garner. “Experiential learning is at the core of each one of our classes. We are adding value to students’ experience which will help them in their careers.”

Public health professionals focus on wellness and disease and injury prevention rather than treatment, and work to address the physical, environmental and mental health conditions of communities. Public health is one of the 10 fastest growing professions in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The United States is projected to have 250,000 job openings for public health professionals by 2020. 

“UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation is making a significant contribution to wellness and disease prevention in the DFW metroplex and throughout the state by investing in an ambitious public health program,” said Lillie Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth, a member of the DFW Airport Board of Directors, and a UTA alumna. “The introduction of this health care program confirms UTA’s stature as a leader in health care education in both the region and the state.”

Career opportunities for public health professionals include health educator, health policy analyst, health advocacy specialist, environmental specialist, disease intervention officer and industrial hygiene officer.

“The board’s approval strengthens our position as one of the nation’s pre-eminent centers for health care education,” said Anne Bavier, dean of UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “The public health degree will complement our nationally respected nursing and kinesiology programs. It will boost the array of course offerings available to students who desire a well-rounded career in public health or who are interested in exploring other spheres of the health care profession. It will also enhance the work of our college in research and service to our surrounding communities.”

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie Research-1 “highest research activity” institution with a projected global enrollment of more than 58,000 in the 2016-17 school year.